Wikipedia:Voting is not evil
This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
Voting Is Not Evil (VINE) is a counterpoint to the Wikipedia essay "Polling is not a substitute for discussion", or WP:PNSD, a page written from scratch but loosely based upon m:voting is evil. This essay explains what voting on the Wikipedia entails, and how voting can be a useful tool toward harmonious editing.
Voting vs. consensus board
Each article has a built-in talk page. In the event of a dispute over how something should be done, it may be brought up, in one of two forms, on the talk page.
The most common form is an ad hoc consensus board, which will materialize around the catalyst issue, debate it, and, hopefully, bring it to a resolution. This is the "community" approach, and in most cases it is the best option for a mutually amicable solution.
Voting is a vaguely more formalized process. It should be advertised, and a vote should not be sprung on a topic at any time. Each user gets one vote, and when the voting closes (a predetermined time limit is strongly advised, one week is reasonable) the side with majority votes is the "winner". The terms having now been defined, the rest of this article will be dedicated to helping you choose the right times and places to stage or participate in a vote.
Voting is not a good substitute for discussion; ill-advised votes have a tendency of attracting comments that they are inappropriate, and are frequently closed altogether.
Voting as an asset: The right times
There are right times to stage a vote. The trick is knowing which ones and why...
"Several roads diverged in a wood...:" Pick one
Voting on a yes/no option generally doesn't work; it is more useful to find a compromise between the extremes. However, an issue that can be resolved by voting quite well is picking a standard. For instance, iff it has already been decided that a certain layout should be standardized, a vote can be taken to see which color the standard should be. Such polls generally have more than two options; as such, it is not reasonable to expect any one option to get more than 50% support. Instead, one should look at which option has the most support (with, if necessary, a runoff between the top three). The easiest system for this is approval voting.
Massing the forces: Concentrating an effort
Wikipedia has quite a few collaborative projects. The umbrella project – the Article Creation and Improvement Drive deals with all articles of all types, but there exists a whole host of other specialized projects. For these projects, the system of choice is the vote. The winner is the article with the most cumulative votes becomes the new project of the week/fortnight/month, and will be groomed by loving editors into (hopefully) a featured article.
The beauty of that system is that the losers don't actually lose. If a runner-up article has enough support to remain on the roster for another week (see each project for the nuances of its voting system) then it may yet be pulled from the bin and made perfect.
Voting as an obstacle: The wrong times
Rule of thumb: if you have more detractors than supporters, you're going to lose no matter what system you're using. See also vexatious litigant.
House rules: Fighting the system
It should go without saying (see WP:NOT) that "Wikipedia is not a democracy", and you can't actually vote down the system as it stands. Wikipedia rules (those on copyright, for instance) overrule any local voting. If there is a picture due to be deleted because it has the wrong licensing tags, you can vote until your face turns blue to no effect.
A Fistful of edits: When voting becomes a shootout
A point from WP:PNSD is that the thing about having winners is that everyone else automatically becomes losers. This will damage, rather than unify, the community spirit that's holding the dear old WP together. If you're staging a vote just to beat the other side into submission, then you're doing the wrong thing. Try holding a community discussion instead.
Just to note that the world is not a Happily Ever After kind of place, even this doesn't always work. The fight at aluminium is an epic example of two groups of people – those who favor the American spelling (without the second "i") and those who don't – locked in an entrenched series of flareup fights over who is right. It's entirely possible that they may never decide, and in this case actually bringing up the subject at all, either in vote or debate, is probably going to do much more damage than just trying to forget about it. Some fights simply can't be won – the point is picking the fairest set of rules to tie at.
Note: An inherent flaw of voting
Voting has (at least) one inherent flaw in use at the Wikipedia, and that is that votes are semi-permanent, and community board discussions are not.
A community board discussion shifts with the community members. When a community view changes, its approach will merge seamlessly into the new line of thinking. This is because a community view is intangible. Votes, on the other hand, are nailed to the wall – and, worse still, the best way to really be rid of a vote is to have another vote against it.
Votes are especially unfair to those who come after. Someone walking in on a situation in which the dice have already been cast doesn't even get the chance to vote. Understand, when you vote, that what you are doing is, for all effects and purposes, permanent.
Counternote: No process on Wikipedia may be considered binding: Consensus Can Change . In theory, it is even possible to simply ignore the outcome of a vote "as there is clearly no consensus".
In practice, there is some nuance to this: see Wikipedia:POLL#Straw_poll_guidelines . If 60% are in favor of X, it is inadvisable to do not-X, because there is a large group of people in favor of X. At the same time, if 40% are opposed to X (also a large group), it may in fact be inadvisable to do X too! By starting a vote, it is possible to drive your adoption-process into an impasse.
The solution for this is:
- (retroactively) call your vote an opinion poll
- Identify the key parties in the opinion poll
- Sit down with those groups, and hammer out an actual consensus.
You can either use WP:BRD (small-medium scale), or occasional opinion polls (medium-large scale) to keep an eye on the direction consensus is moving in.
Voting is a tool
The reason this article is not titled Voting is Good (other than the fact that VINE makes a pretty nice acronym) is that voting isn't good. Neither is it evil, however, as the above evidence will hopefully convince you. Voting is a tool, and like any tool there are some places where it's perfect and some places where it's useless... or disempowering. You, as a user, must decide for yourself when voting is the right thing to do. VIE and VINE are here to help, but actually finding the fairest way to do something is a decision you'll have to make yourself.
Voting can be fun
Users with opinions, but no ability or motivation to edit, may prefer to vote for or against a whole article, or for/against a particular edit of that article. Allowing user engagement at both of these levels can be fun, and the information collected can be useful. Even a social-network styled emoticon (github, facebook, etc.) vote could be used. Ideally, no decision on *how* the information is used should be made until *after* a data collection period. Potential uses could include: auto-flagging articles as contentious/popular/funny, auto-flagging edits as needing moderation. Crowd-sourcing is Wikipedia's stock-in-trade, and votes are just another piece of information to collect.