APRIL 2008

"Math and Voting"

In a presidential election year, voting is uppermost on our minds. Candidates vie for attention, polls are taken, debates held, blogs written, primaries conducted, and, ultimately, a general election leads to the naming of the next president of the United States. Some of us are deeply engaged in these processes, and some keep them at a distance. Yet, most people wonder at some point: Does my vote matter? Is the election process fair? Are the votes being counted correctly? The answers to these questions involve great complexity, but fortunately, mathematics and statistics provide the means to deal with such complexity.

Indeed, "voting" is something that happens in many contexts not related to politics. In any situation in which preferences are expressed, voting has occurred. Are you applying for a job? If there are many applicants, those responsible for hiring are voting for the candidates. Voting also arises in individual decisions, not just group decisions.

Did you know the method of conducting that sort of election can have a tremendous impact on the outcome? Stated differently, in the words of mathematician Don Saari, "An election outcome can more accurately reflect the choice of a voting system, rather than the voters' wishes."

Or what if you hadn't voted at all? Would that have changed the result of the election? What is the probability that your vote could be decisive? Statisticians such as Andrew Gelman have found ways to measure voter impact.

Saari, Gelman, and other mathematicians and statisticians have applied many mathematical methods to understanding and solving complex issues involving voting. Thus, the 2008 Mathematics Awareness Month theme, "Mathematics and Voting," illustrates the power and elegance of the mathematical sciences in addressing a problem of fundamental societal importance.  

Take a look at the resources on this site, and soon you will become more aware of the incredible power of mathematics.

Mathematics Awareness Month is sponsored each year by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics to recognize the importance of mathematics through written materials and an accompanying poster that highlight mathematical developments and applications in a particular area.
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