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Voting with Rubber Bands and Pulleys


Davide Cervone and William Zwicker
Union College

October 7, 2008
4:00 pm
Bailey Hall 207

Refreshments will be served at 3:45 in Bailey 204


Whoever gets the most votes wins, so voting is simple, right? Not quite. A variety of very different rules have been proposed for multicandidate voting. Some of these rules have a voter cast a ballot listing all candidates in descending order of preference. Rules that take account of a voter’s full ranking, rather than her first choice only, offer some advantages. Which rule we use certainly affects who wins the election, so the choice of rule is important. We’ll look at two rules: one dating back to the French revolution (or earlier) and another that was proposed very recently. Each of these rules can be defined in terms of machines that use weights and pulleys, or rubber bands, although that is not the way they were originally described.

This mechanistic viewpoint gives us some insight into the different voting properties that might make us choose one rule over the other. That insight is enhanced when we play with the actual machines, in the form of interactive computer simulations of the rubber bands and the strings.

This work represents a collaboration between two members of the Union Mathematics Department: Davide Cervone (geometry and interactive web-based software) and William Zwicker (voting theory).

For additional information, send e-mail to math@union.edu or call (518) 388-6246.
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