Nieuwland lecturer to offer a mathematical view of elections

by William G. Gilroy

In the wake of this year’s mid-term elections, the annual Nieuwland Lecture in Applied Mathematics at the University of Notre Dame will feature one of the leading critics of the American electoral process.p. Donald Saari, distinguished professor of mathematics and economics and director of the Center for Decision Analysis at the University of California, Irvine, will deliver a lecture titled ?Elections and Selections: Why Do We Do SO Poorly?? at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 12) in Room 131 DeBartolo Hall. The talk is free and open to the public.p. Saari’s innovative research merges mathematics and the social sciences to gain greater insight into how Americans vote. His conclusions have made him an advocate for voting procedures that he believes more accurately represent the will of the people by taking their second choices into consideration.p. In his recent book ?Chaotic Elections,? Saari examined the 2000 U.S. presidential election and voting systems in general. Nearly all political elections in the United States are plurality votes, in which each voter selects a single candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. Saari points out that in elections with only two candidates, plurality voting works fine, since the winner is guaranteed to be the top choice of more than half the voters. But as soon as three or more candidates are on the ballot, the system can run into trouble.p. Because the plurality system factors in only voters? top choices and ignores how they might rank other candidates, it can lead to unsettling paradoxical results, such as the 2000 Bush-Gore-Nader results in Florida, or the 1998 election of wrestler Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota. Saari feels believes that mathematics can shed light on questions of how well different voting procedures, like the Borda count system or approval voting, capture the will of voters. He has been using the tools of chaos theory to identify what scenarios of voter preferences will give rise to disturbing election outcomes.p. The author of over 100 journal articles and six books, Saari received his doctorate from Purdue University. He was a member of the faculty at Northwestern University from 1969 to 2000. The past recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences last year.p. For more information on the Saari lecture, contact the Center for Applied Mathematics, (574) 631-8660.

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