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I have a complaint about the way the site works: After I've voted on an answer, the site won't let me later change my vote. Sometimes after reading comments and discussion, I change my view of the answer, but the site won't let me change my vote. For instance, it won't let me remove a vote that I later decide (e.g., based upon the comments) was unwarranted or misguided. My reaction is, Huh? Why is the site preventing me from doing that? What is gained? What is the purpose of this restriction? How is this helping make the site more useful to the world?

My feature request is: remove this restriction, and let me change my vote at any time after it is initially cast. Or, if that is considered unacceptable for some reason, let me change my vote if there has been at least one new comment (by someone other than me) since the time that I cast my vote. Or, if that is unacceptable, then let users with at least 2K reputation change their vote (why 2K? because there's currently a hack-ish way 2K-rep users can circumvent the restriction, if they choose, as discussed below, so this change would not open up any new opportunities for gaming).

This sort of request has been widely supported at SO.Meta, but has not been acted on. (See also: 1, 2, 3.) Apparently this restriction was designed to prevent "gaming", but I think it goes overboard in preventing useful behavior. (I don't think "gaming" has been a problem here on ITSecurity, but for those who are concerned about "gaming", see my suggestions above for ways to allow vote changes without introducing gaming.) Moreover, I think there is an argument that ability to change your vote is especially appropriate on ITSecurity: security is subtle, and it is not unusual that someone posts an answer that looks good/bad, and then an insightful comment makes you realize your initial impression was inaccurate.

P.S. I know that I can make a no-op edit to the answer and then change my vote, but that's just silly. It is silly to have to go to those artificial contortions. It also compromises the anonymity of the voter and is only available to those with 2K reputation, of which we have only 28 at the moment. The fact that I can circumvent the policy using the "no-edit edit" workaround suggests that the policy is not actually preventing the behavior it is supposedly prohibits, which further suggests to me that it should be re-thought.

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    I think the lesson to be learned here is be careful what you vote on, only vote if you're absolutely sure it's deserved and you are knowledgeable enough in the subject matter to make an accurate judgement. Regarding the (4?!) existing MSO threads supporting this: 1. If there's that many MSO threads about it already, the SE overlords will probably not change their minds over just one more. 2. That many existing threads on MSO means this probably belongs there instead of Meta.Sec.SE, and should probably be closed as dupe. – Iszi Nov 26 '11 at 17:53
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    @Iszi, I think we're talking past each other. The point is that no matter how careful and knowledgeable you are, sometimes a comment shows up later that changes everything. This may be especially true for security questions, where a security flaw may be non-obvious until someone points it out. I already am being careful to vote only when I am knowledgeable enough to make an accurate judgement, but I still regularly encounter situations where I wish I could change my vote after seeing a subsequent insightful comment. – D.W. Nov 26 '11 at 22:10
  • (cont.) However, you may be right that this is better discussed on MSO. Also, you may be right that the site owners will never change this, and raising the issue is pointless. I don't have an answer for that. Thanks for raising those points. – D.W. Nov 26 '11 at 22:15
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It seems that at an early point in the history of StackOverflow, they got bitten by several wide-scale "gaming" attempts which involved downvoting and then subsequent undoing of said downvotes. The SO people are not very eager to give details... My guess is the following: within the database structure, there is no tracking for undos: an undone vote is as if the vote had never occurred. However, the SO people react to gaming attacks by running fraud-detection scripts, which look for "suspicious patterns". What these scripts do is not public information, because it would presumably make it too easy to fl under the radar (that's security through obscurity at its finest). So they deactivated vote-undoing (beyond the 5-minute window) because they need modification history to do their magic detection thing, and undoing erases history except when it is part of an edit (and I am quite ready to believe that retrofitting vote-undoing-tracking to their system could be a daunting task).

To sum up, I think that the impossibility to undo votes is here to stay, because removing it would prevent some fraud-detection scripts to work, or would imply adding some non-trivial features into the SO engine. And you will probably never get such a straight answer (or even a comprehensive description of what really is "tactical downvoting") from the SO team (except the generic "it is for security") because of the perceived need for obscurity.

Designing a voting system which is resilient to tactical downvoting and yet does not rely on obscurity looks like an interesting question. It is part game theory, part psychology, and it would be on-topic on security.SE.

  • +1, would be an on-topic (and exciting) discussion – Jeff Ferland Nov 28 '11 at 20:33

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