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Voting is a tool

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(English) 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.
Other essays Voting is a tool
by Andrevan
The following is something I wrote using a method I often use for figuring out where I stand on something: writing out what I feel about a topic in the mindset of someone advocating a certain view, or the opposite of that view. (I hear that this is an ENTP trait.) In this case, I wrote it like an otherwise reasonable person who happens to be strongly opposed to the concept of voting is evil. I haven't really reconciled where I stand on this issue, especially because doing this can be very self-convincing. However, I found the finished essay to be enlightening in several ways, so I present it to you now. (Note: one of my habits while doing this is to underline, or in this case embolden, important words, so it ends up sounding like something written by John C. Dvorak. I apologize if this makes it harder to read.)
Andrevan, 05 September 2005.

Lately the word on the street has been that voting is evil and Wikipedia is not a democracy. I'd like to address both of these separately, but it's essentially impossible to do so, so I will address them together.

Voting isn't evil. Voting is a tool, and while all tools can be used for evil, they are not inherently such. Straw polls are tools that, if used properly, can gauge whether consensus exists. Throughout Wikipedia's history, they have been consistently used for this purpose, and there's no reason to stop now.

Wikipedia is run on a consensus system. It's not a democracy, nor is it a government at all. However, if you're going to compare it to a government, it's a benevolent dictatorship with a democratic decision-making system. It's a democracy insofar as it is egalitarian in nature, and decisions are put in the hands of the governed. Or, the line between the government and the governed is extremely blurry and possibly not even present, outside of Jim Wales. Democracy - rule by the masses. Wikipedia's consensus system certainly fits this description.

Many persons of the voting-is-evil persuasion use democracy and voting to mean "majority voting." They are right in one respect: the majority does not rule. However, replace the figure of >50% with the number of your choice and all of a sudden everything works! The supermajority rules. In VfD, it's 66%, in RfA, it's 80%, and who knows what it is for bureaucrats. But it's certainly voting. Maybe you don't want it to be voting, but that's what it is. Consensus is just a code-word for high approval majority.

Proponents of voting-is-evil advocate a form of consensus decision-making that involves examining opposing arguments and coming to a conclusion that doesn't use numbers at all. What they don't understand is that consensus decision making of the sort they are advocating has many problems. First of all, it does not scale: the time it takes to close a poll is directly proportional to the amount of votes on it. Second of all, it isn't fair: presiding vote-readers may have a soft spot for one argument, or strongly object to another. Third of all, because of these two problems, consensus decision-making becomes a much lesser animal when applied: unanimity.

That's right. Presiding vote-readers cannot discount votes merely because they disagree with them. Therefore, after eliminating votes without reasons and votes that are clear outliers, only unanimity or near-unanimity will satisfy consensus. But unanimity isn't an acceptable metric for most things because voters aren't perfect. Someone might oppose because of a personal opinion or a personal grudge. I know I myself have done so in the past, and I'm sure even our greatest, fairest users are guilty of it. More simply, oppose votes can be misguided, affected by pride or friendship or another emotion, or just untrue. One bad-faith or misinformed vote can destroy the possibility of consensus. But most of these votes are very difficult to pick out, and as such determining consensus this way is nearly impossible.

That's where I lost my train of thought. Carrying something so far in a different mindset than your own is difficult!

See also