Don't vote on everything
|This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.
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Wikipedia operates on discussion-driven consensus, and can therefore be regarded as "not a democracy", because a vote might run counter to these ends. Some therefore advocate avoiding votes wherever possible. In general, only long-running disputes should be the subject of a poll. Even then, participants in the dispute should understand that the poll does not create a consensus. At best, it might reflect how close those involved are to one.
Why not vote on everything?
It is the nature of a virtual, open environment like a wiki that we don't know much about many of the people we interact with. New identities can be created within seconds, and as a result of communication dynamics, such as a posting on an external website or private campaigning, hundreds of people with a particular agenda may come to vote in a poll. If for instance, there is a discussion about a (favorable) statement on the 3 Doors Down article, one could go to a fan forum and request everyone there to quickly make an account and vote for keeping this statement, then not spending any time on Wikipedia whatsoever. This makes automatisms in voting impossible; any result of a voting process needs to be carefully validated according to agreed upon standards.
In some cases where a decision can only be implemented by a person with a special privilege, such as deletions and assignments of new privileges, the people holding these privileges (known as administrators and bureaucrats) are also responsible for validating and interpreting the vote. However, the primary role of these community representatives is to determine whether the decision followed proper procedures, and to eliminate and weigh votes such as those of sock puppets and new users. They are, to some extent, allowed to interpret community opinion, but it is not their role to determine truth.
It is also the nature of the wiki to be ever-changing. New people visit every day, and through new information and new ideas, we may gain insights we didn't have previously. It is important that there is a way to challenge past decisions, whether they have been reached by vote or consensus. Voting should therefore practically never be "binding" in the sense that the decision cannot be taken back.
Voting on articles and policies
There is consensus among critics and proponents of voting that majority voting should not be the process we use to determine neutrality and accuracy of articles (though some propose it as a last resort, if consensus utterly fails after long debates). Voting "Is this article neutral?", for example, tells us little about the facts in a matter and a lot about people's feelings. This is why What Wikipedia is not explicitly states that the English Wikipedia is not a democracy or a bureaucracy. English Wikipedia policy development is an area where consensus is also of very high importance, especially for policies which are meant to be enforced.
Voting is a simplistic way to try to find a consensus that often overlooks possible compromises. In fact, some feel that holding a vote is like saying: "I cannot reach consensus with you, ever", and dislike votes for this reason. There is also unanimous agreement that a vote which is not carefully set up, with the arguments and options laid out in consensus and the process finding general approval, is highly problematic. Finally, simply editing a page is often the quickest way to resolve a disagreement.
Less consensus exists about votes which regard matters of style, taste and personal preference: Should an image of the act of autofellatio be included in an article? Should styles such as His Holiness be mentioned in articles? Some people feel that after long discussions, votes may be a valid way to reach decisions in cases like this. Another example where voting is sometimes applied are minor decisions about the placement of facts in articles.
How to hold a consensus vote on the English Wikipedia (historical, withdrawn proposal) explains how votes in such cases can be set up. It is of high importance that the participants agree with the process -- if no consensus about the process can be reached, then a vote should not be used to force an issue.