“What makes your vote matter?”
That‘s the question those eye-grabbing orange posters you’ve probably noticed around collegiate math departments are asking. It’s the theme of this year Mathematics Awareness Month and a fitting one at that. With the ongoing primaries and caucuses, and upcoming presidential election on everybody’s mind, 2008 makes the perfect year to display the elegant connection between math and voting.
The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM), comprised of the MAA, the AMS, the ASA, and SIAM, has put together a web site (http://www.mathaware.org) and a number of resources for Mathematics Awareness Month to help increase public understanding of, and appreciation for mathematics.
It’s important to note that "voting" is something that happens in many contexts not at all related to politics. According to the MAM web site, any situation in which preferences are expressed, voting has occurred. When you apply for a job, for example, those responsible for hiring are voting for the candidate they like most. Voting also arises in individual decisions, not just group decisions.
This year’s featured activity is a video contest encouraging participants to create a short piece to be hosted on YouTube that conveys their feeling on the connection between math and voting. The site also hosts a number of video lectures on math and voting given by University of California-Irvine professor Don Saari. Also, mathaware.org hosts a voting exercise that is meant to show the outcome of an election may more accurately reflect the voting method rather than the voters' wishes. The exercise provides three separate ways to cast your ballot for your presidential candidate of choice, and then reveals that each method produces a different winner.
Resources for this year's Mathematics Awareness Month are designed to help explain what makes your vote matter, as well as how the voting system used affects the outcome, regardless of the context of the voting. At mathaware.org, you can download articles and essays that deal with the relation between math and voting, as well as an 8.5-inch x 11-inch copy of the 2008 poster, titled "What Makes My Vote Matter?"
The idea of Mathematics Awareness Month came about in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation establishing National Mathematics Awareness Week. Extended to a month in 1999, MAM activities are generally organized on local, state and regional levels by college and university departments, institutional public information offices, student groups, and related associations and interest groups.—Ryan Miller