Math 150 Voting and Elections: A Mathematical Perspective
MWF 2pm Th 2:30pm Room SMudd 207


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

MTWTh 10-11:15am in Mudd 503

Friday 11am-noon in Mudd 503

Tues/Thurs 1-1:50pm in SCCE E202 (Statistics Consulting Room in Science Center)

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) Taylor and Pacelli, Mathematics and Politics 2nd Ed. (available as an e-Book through the library)
2) Poundstone, Gaming the Vote 
3) Szpiro, Numbers Rule (available as an e-Book through the library)
4) Caplan, Myth of the Rational Voter, pages 1-22 (available through Moodle site)

A non-required resource book BEHIND THE BALLOT BOX is available as an e-Book through the library. All five books will also be on reserve in the science library.

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 (such as working problems at the board, actively participating in discussions, and contributing news items; 20%), assignments throughout the semester, such as mathematical exercises, short writing assignments, and posting responses to readings (25%), one take-home exam (20%), and two projects with presentations (35%). 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

Inclusion and Accessibility
I strive to make all my courses welcoming to all students. I am happy to discuss your learning needs and strategies to best support your academic success. If you have a documented disability that requires accommodations, please register with Accessibility Services at the college, and contact me to let me know what accommodations you will need for this course. Whenever possible, please give me at least two weeks advance notice to implement these accommodations.

Course Resources:

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