Math 150 Voting and Elections: A Mathematical Perspective
MWThF 9am Converse 209


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

MTWTh 1-3pm

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?

I will post assigned readings, exercises, and other assignments on the course Moodle site. You will be asked to post responses to the readings each week through the links on that week's Moodle section. We will be very active in class, regularly working through problems and discussing definitions and their implications.

Required texts:

1) Borgers, MATHEMATICS OF SOCIAL CHOICE  (available at Amherst Books)
3) Poundstone, GAMING THE VOTE  (available at Amherst Books)

A non-required resource book BEHIND THE BALLOT BOX is available as an e-Book through the library.

A pair of discussion leaders are assigned to the weekly class discussions, covering the readings for that day. The discussion leaders should prepare a set of questions to guide our discussion in class, exploring the important points made in the readings and addressing comments made in the response postings. It is your responsibility to be an active participant in all class discussions, whether or not you are an assigned discussion leader that day.

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 Math 150, 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 class, 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 working problems at the board, leading assigned class discussions, and contributing news items (25% total), assignments throughout the semester, such as mathematical exercises, short writing assignments, and posting responses to readings (25%), two exams (30%), and a final paper and presentation (20%). Late assignments will be docked 10% for each day they are late, unless you contact me and obtain an extension (in case of illness, family emergency, etc). I am 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.