Election Math: A British approach from Plus Magazine

As you know, Hillary Clinton received more votes than Donald Trump in 2016, which is why she is president today.

What? You say that isn’t true?

But she really did get more votes — and we live in a democracy, so what’s going on?

Well, most Americans today know about the Electoral College (EC), and there are finally some stirrings to get rid of it, although that won’t happen: the smallest states like the EC because they get disproportionate power as they get more electors than are proportional to their population; the largest states like it because they use the winner-take-all method and thus they are even more important than they should be. So we’re not going to get 3/4 of the states to agree to abolish it.

Anyway, Plus Magazine, a British online math magazine for the general public, recently published a series of three articles on election math. Let’s talking about them briefly, and then you can go and read the actual articles:

  • The first article, Elections: Can they be fair?, discusses Nobel Prize winner Kenneth Arrow’s famous theorem that proved that no voting system can ever be perfect, demonstrating it with simple examples.
  • The second article, Elections: Three common methods, discusses Ranked-Choice Voting and some other methods for creating fairer elections than either First Past the Post or the Electoral College can. Again, nothing is perfect, but we can do a lot better than we do right now. Once again, the author uses simple, concrete examples instead of relying on theorem.
  • The third article, Elections: Could they be fairer?, discusses more complex solutions. Of the three articles, this is the only one that contains some math that might intimidate some readers, but give it a fair shake. It’s not really intimidating.

Anyway, I congratulate the author, Chris Budd, for writing such clear articles about an important application of mathematics. The blurb at the end says he “is particularly interested in applying mathematics to the real world and promoting the public understanding of mathematics,” and he has done both here.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning