FYSE 102 Voting and Elections: A Mathematical Perspective
TTh 11:30-12:50 Mudd 205


Instructor Tanya Leise
Email tleise at amherst dot edu
Phone 542-5411
Office SMudd 503
Office hours

Mon 1-3pm and Thurs 9-11am
Other times by appointment or simply try stopping by my office.

The outcomes of many elections, whether to elect the next U.S. president or to rank college football teams, can displease many of the voters. How can perfectly fair elections produce results that nobody likes? We will discuss different voting systems and their pros and cons, including majority rule, plurality rule, Borda count, and approval voting, and examine the results of various past elections. We will also assess the power of each voter under various systems, for example, by calculating the Banzhaf power index. After exploring the pitfalls of various voting systems (through both theoretical analysis and real examples), we will try to answer some pressing questions: Which voting system best reflects the will of the voters? Which is least susceptible to manipulation? What properties should we seek in a voting system, and how can we best attain them?

The course will be discussion-based, and students are expected to be active participants in the seminar. The course will develop critical thinking skills and the ability to write carefully reasoned arguments. No prior mathematics is assumed. This course will provide an introduction to liberal studies through in-class discussions, readings, and writing assignments. Feedback will be provided to help students improve their writing skills.

The course Moodle site lists the required readings and assignments, including links to post responses to some of the readings.

Attendance: You are to be in class and to be there on time. Cooperative learning is more effective and more fun than struggling through material on your own. Active participation in class discussions is an important component of the First Year Seminar, ideally a fun and engaging aspect of the course where you get to voice your opinions and ideas. If you do miss a class session, it is your responsibility to obtain the material that you missed and to get your assignments handed in to me.


Questions: If you have a question during lecture, please raise your hand and ask it right away. Chances are that other students are wondering the same thing. If a question arises later, feel free to visit my office or email me about your question or any topic that arises you'd like to discuss in person (bringing it up during the next class session can be great, too, but don't put it off too long or you might forget what you wanted to say!).


Grading:  Your course grade will be based on in-class participation, including leading assigned class discussions (20% total), short writing assignments throughout the semester (50%), posting responses to readings (10%), and a final paper (20%). Late assignments will be docked 5% for each day they are late, unless you contact me in advance and obtain an extension (in case of illness, family emergency, etc). I am often willing to be flexible with deadlines if you have been regularly communicating with me about any issues that are causing delays with your work.


Intellectual Responsibility


Course Resources:

Don't struggle alone! You have many options for getting help with this course.