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Down with Plurality!

Hi friends,

As some of you may know, in general I don’t hold our country’s voting methods in very high regard. Think about the way we vote for president, for instance. Aside from not asking voters to state any preferences at all, it’s difficult to do worse than our current system: we can only show our support for a single candidate, when in fact our preferences may be more nuanced. Moreover, since we can only vote for a single candidate, there’s little incentive to vote for our favorite one, unless our favorite happens to be a front-runner. This is known all across the universe, as evidenced by the Presidential runs of Kang and Kodos:

Even worse, a third party candidate who garners a decent amount of support may end up hurting his own party and parties more closely aligned to it by acting . . . → Read More: Down with Plurality!

Instant Runoff Voting in Oakland

Earlier this month, Oakland elected its first Asian American to the less than coveted role of city mayor. Jean Quan emerged victorious this election day, although at one point she was trailing her opponent by 11 percentage points. Understood in context, however, her victory is perhaps less surprising – rather than winning by Plurality, Quan won under Oakland’s Instant Runoff Voting system.

I don't know much about Oakland politics, but this picture sure makes her look ready for business.

What’s the difference? For most elections in the United States, voters are instructed to cast their vote for the individual who they would most like to see get elected. These votes are tallied, and the one with the most votes is declared the winner. In contrast, the Instant Runoff Voting system asks voters to rank several candidates at once – this extra information is used to automatically determine the outcome . . . → Read More: Instant Runoff Voting in Oakland

Make Money Money, Make Money Money Money! (and Learn Math, too)

Let me begin by saying that, in response to the question Why is 9/09/09 so special?, my response is simple: it’s not.

In fact, I would argue that 09/08/09 is much more interesting. This claim has nothing to do with numerology, and everything to do with President Obama’s speech to the youth of America on the value of education. The speech made very clear the importance of taking education seriously, and hopefully convinced students that a good education benefits not only themselves, but also society at large. In case you missed the speech, the transcript can be found here.

Although the speech was about education in general, mathematics got a little bit of love too. Here’s one such example:

What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation . . . → Read More: Make Money Money, Make Money Money Money! (and Learn Math, too)

Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 3

As promised, in this thrilling final installment to the relationship between math and voting (the first two parts can be found here and here), we will look at what many people see as the holy grail of voting systems: Range voting.

The concept of range voting is simple. Given a set of candidates, in a range voting system you simply put a score next to each name that reflects how strongly you support that candidate. Of course, this is quite different from our current voting system, where we only get to vote for one candidate, but more importantly, it differs significantly from other voting systems where you are just asked to rank candidates in order of preference, because a ranking gives no information about the degree to which your support varies from candidate to candidate.

For example, if Anna, Bob, and Charlie are all running for President, you and I . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 3

Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 2

As you may recall, I have already discussed certain perils associated with different voting systems. However, given all the commotion this election is causing, I thought it may be worthwhile to discuss voting in a bit more detail.

There is plenty of information online regarding the relationship between math and voting, for those with interest enough to seek it out. But perhaps the best centralized internet location on this topic comes from this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month website.

In April of every year, hosts a Mathematics Awareness month, complete with articles and contests related to the year’s theme of forging a bridge between mathematics and what is often times a seemingly disparate discipline. It was no doubt with tremendous foresight that they selected “Mathematics and Voting” for this year’s theme.

A good way to kill a few minutes is with their voting methods simulation. On this page, you can . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 2

Math Gets Around: Politics

Many students often ask their teachers, “Why do I have to learn this boring mathematics? Nobody uses mathematics anyhow.” This new feature, entitled Math Gets Around, will attempt to show you that in fact, mathematics will pop up even in the least likely of places. So learn those multiplication tables, chief.

Today, we see how mathematics has weaseled its way into an unlikely place: the realm of politics. This is particularly relevant given the fact that, as some of you may have heard, there is a presidential election in just a few short months.

Among the general population, there will always be dissidents who complain of the failings of our democratic process. Among these dissidents, you may even find those who question the existence of our two party system, and claim that a system with a larger number of parties would be better for everyone involved. But I am here . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Politics