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Bethel math professor’s seminar to focus on voting

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- With the first Tuesday in November fast approaching, everyone--from politicians to business owners, military personnel to civilians--is thinking about the upcoming presidential election. So is one Bethel College professor. While others may be deciding for whom to vote, Christopher M. Earles, assistant professor of mathematics, is thinking about how we vote.

This summer, while looking through possible textbooks for his math classes, Earles noticed that the first two chapters of one text were devoted to voting systems, comparing various election systems and calculating the possibility for error in each. This intrigued him, Earles said.

One particular system of voting that Earles will focus on in his presentation is instant run-off. In this system the voter, instead of selecting one candidate, ranks candidates in preference order.

"In the past two presidential elections, third-party candidates have had quite an impact," said Earles. "Both elections may have turned out very differently had the third parties not run. Instant run-off voting would eliminate bickering about third-party candidates."

However, Earles explains, no voting system is perfect. For example, in an instant run-off voting system, the candidate who receives the most number-one choice votes may not be the over-all election winner.

In the course of his lecture, using a series of simple experiments, Earles will show that both the current election system and the instant run-off system have their faults. Mathematical analysis shows that no election system is flawless.

"There is an inherent unfairness in voting systems that we can’t do anything about," said Earles. "All we can do is try to eliminate unfairness as much as possible."

Aside from its connection to past elections and to the rapidly approaching Nov. 2 presidential election, Earles selected the topic of voting to show the general public that there is more to mathematicians than "balancing checkbooks." He hopes to present useful applications for mathematics that are "easy to get your head around."

Earles will present "A Mathematician Looks at Voting: The Paradoxes of Politics" at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18, in the Administration Building chapel on the Bethel College campus in North Newton. His lecture is the first in the 2004-05 Faculty Seminar series, and is free and open to the public.

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