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**The Mathematics of Social Choice:
**

Is Democracy Mathematically Unsound?

Jose Maria P. Balmaceda

Professor

Institute of Mathematics

University of the Philippines Diliman

joey@math.upd.edu.ph

Science, Technology and Society

Prelude

Order and Mathematics

2

Order in Mathematics

Q Concept of order appears everywhere

in mathematics

Q Order theory studies various binary

relations that capture the intuitive

notion of mathematical ordering

Examples:

Q Usual order, ≤, on natural numbers

Q Lexicographic ordering of words

Pictorial Representation of

Order (Lattices)

Example: Subsets of

a set {a,b}

{a,b}

{a} {b}

∅

Example:

Subsets of a 4-element

set

3

Ordering the divisors of an integer:

“x ≤ y” , if x is a divisor of y

6 is the LCM of

2 and 3

5 is the GCD of

20 and 15

Example: divisors of 60

3 Diagrams of the Lattice of

Subsets of a 4-Element Set

4

Lattices are studied in many areas

of math and computer science

+ Crystallography

+ Number theory

+ Cryptography

+ Coding theory

+ Sphere packing

Order and Society

• Social Choice and Voting

• Paradoxes of Democracy

• Ideal Voting Systems and Arrow’s

Theorem

5

Social Choice Theory and

Voting Systems

Q Social Choice Theory:

deals with process by

which varied and

conflicting choices are

consolidated into a

single choice of the

group (or society)

Q Voting: vehicle by

which decisions are

made in a democratic

society

Q Underlying

principle is that of

ordering or

ranking

(of preferences

or choices)

S

o

c

i

a

l

C

h

o

i

c

e

a

n

d

I

n

d

i

v

i

d

u

a

l

V

a

l

u

e

s

B

y

K

e

n

n

e

t

h

A

r

r

o

w

1

9

5

2

Voting Systems

Q Voting system: a way for a group to select one

(winner) from among several candidates

Q If there are only two alternatives, choosing is easy:

the one preferred by the majority wins

Q If there is only one person doing the choosing, things

are again easy (but this option is probably

undesirable)

Q When several people choose from among three or

more alternatives, the process is trickier

6

Some assumptions on our voting

system:

Q Individual preferences are assumed to be

transitive: if a voter prefers X to Y and Y to Z,

it is reasonable to assume that the voter

prefers X to Z

Q Relative preferences are not altered by the

elimination of one or more candidates

Q These are so-called “fairness” assumptions.

Later, we shall impose other fairness

principles on our voting system

Non-transitivity can cause problems

Situation: Choosing a Suitor

• 3 suitors: ALEX , BUDDY , CALOY

• Girl ranks the 3 men according to : intelligence, physical

attractiveness, income

Intelligence Physical Income

Rank 1 A B C

Rank 2 B C A

Rank 3 C A B

!Taken in pairs, she prefers: A to B

B to C

C to A

7

Situation : Choosing a Candidate

• 3 candidates: A, B, C, ranked by all voter s

1/3 of

voters

1/3 of

voters

1/3 of

voters

Rank 1

A B C

Rank 2

B C A

Rank 3

C A B

!Taken in pairs: 2/3 prefer A to B

2/3 prefer B to C

2/3 prefer C to A

Choosing a fastfood place

Choose first between McDo and Wendy’s

Q McDo vs Wendy’s → Wendy’s

Q Then, Wendy’s vs Jollibee → Jollibee (winner)

Q But Vic is unhappy. ®

McDo Jollibee Wendy’s 3

rd

Choice

Wendy’s McDo Jollibee 2

nd

Choice

Jollibee Wendy’s McDo 1

st

Choice

Joey Vic Tito

8

Insincere or Strategic Voting

Q Suppose Vic is insincere. He votes for McDo

(instead of his real 1

st

choice, Wendy’s).

McDo Jollibee Wendy’s 3

rd

Choice

Wendy’s McDo Jollibee 2

nd

Choice

Jollibee Wendy’s McDo 1

st

Choice

Joey Vic Tito

Insincere or Strategic Voting

Q Suppose Vic is insincere. He votes for McDo

(instead of his real 1

st

choice, Wendy’s).

Q McDo vs Wendy’s → McDo

Q McDo vs Jollibee → McDo

Q Vic is satisfied (he gets his 2

nd

choice) ©

McDo Jollibee Wendy’s 3

rd

Choice

Wendy’s Wendy’s Jollibee 2

nd

Choice

Jollibee McDo McDo 1

st

Choice

Joey Vic Tito

9

Voting Methods

Q The most popular method of voting is

plurality voting.

Q A candidate with the most number of

votes, or most 1

st

-place votes wins.

Q This seems like a very reasonable

method, right? Yes, but…

Example: Plurality isn’t always the

best method

• 100 residents elect their barangay leader.

• The candidates are R, H, C, O, and S.

• The results (given by a preference schedule):

No. of voters 49 48 3

1

st

choice R H C

2

nd

choice H S H

3

rd

choice C O S

4

th

choice O C O

5

th

choice S R R

• Using plurality, the choice is R, despite being the last

choice of a majority (51).

10

Consider H :

• H is the first choice of 48 (only 1

less than R) and also has 52 second

place votes.

• Under any reasonable interpretation,

H is more representat ive of the

town’s choice than R, but plurality

method fails to choose H.

Number of vot ers:

49 48 3

1

st

R H C

2

nd

H S H

3

rd

C O S

4

th

O C O

5

th

S R R

Consider H :

• H is the first choice of 48 (only 1

less than R) and also has 52 second

place votes.

• Under any reasonable interpretation,

H is more representat ive of the

town’s choice than R, but plurality

method fails to choose H.

Number of vot ers:

49 48 3

1

st

R H C

2

nd

H S H

3

rd

C O S

4

th

O C O

5

th

S R R

In a one-to-one comparison H would always get a majority of

the votes.

• Compare H and R: H would get 51 votes (48 from the

second column and 3 from the third) versus 49 for R.

• Comparing H and C would result in 97 votes for H and only

3 for C.

• Finally H is preferred to both O and S by all 100 voters.

11

Fairness Criteria

Q In the language of voting theory, we say

that the plurality method fails to satisfy

a basic principle of fairness called the

Condorcet criterion.

Condorcet’s Criterion:

Marquis de Condorcet, 1743-1794

E If there is a

candidate who wins

in a one-to-one

comparison with

any other

alternative, then

that candidate

should be the

winner of the

election.

12

E We shall examine several voting

methods and discuss other fairness

criteria.

Common Voting Methods

(preferential voting)

The STS Club Election

There are four candidate s for the position of President:

Alice (A) Ben (B) Cris (C) Dina (D)

37 members of the club each submit a ballot indicating his or h er

1

st

, 2

nd

, 3

rd

, 4

th

choices.

No. of voters 14 10 8 4 1

1

st

choice A C D B C

2

nd

choice B B C D D

3

rd

choice C D B C B

4

th

choice D A A A A

We shall use several voting methods to pick the winner.

13

Plurality Method: candidate with most

1

st

place votes wins

A : 14 first-place votes C : 11 first-place votes

B : 4 first-place votes D : 8 first-place votes

` A (Alice) wins using plurality.

STSC election results:

No. of voters 14 10 8 4 1

1st A C D B C

2nd B B C D D

3rd C D B C B

4th D A A A A

Borda Count Method :

weighted voting method

Jean-Charles de Borda, 1733 -1799

No. of voters 14 10 8 4 1

1

st

choice A C D B C

2

nd

choice B B C D D

3

rd

choice C D B C B

4

th

choice D A A A A

• Each place on a ballot is assi gned points . In there are

N candidates, give N points for first place, N -1 points for

second, and so on, until the last place, to be given 1

point.

• The points are tallied for each candidate, and the

candidate with the highest total wins.

14

Borda count for the STS Club election:

Rank \ # Vote 14 10 8 4 1

1

st

: 4 pts A: 56 C: 40 D: 32 B: 16 C: 4

2

nd

: 3 pts B: 42 B: 30 C: 24 D: 12 D: 3

3

rd

: 2 pts C: 28 D:20 B: 16 C: 8 B: 2

4

th

: 1 pt D: 14 A: 10 A: 8 A: 4 A: 1

A gets 56 + 10 + 8 + 4 + 1 = 79 points

B gets 42 + 30 + 16 + 16 + 2 = 106 points

C gets 28 + 40 + 24 + 8 + 4 = 104 points

D gets 14 + 20 + 32 + 12 + 3 = 81 points

The winner is Ben (B) !

Method of Pairwise Comparisons :

Head-to-head match-ups

• Every candidate is matched on a one -to-one basis with

every other candidate.

• Each of these one -to-one pairings is called a pairwise

comparison .

• When pairing two candidates (say X or Y) one on one ,

each vote is assigned to either X or Y by the order of

preference indicated by the voter. (X gets the votes of

all voters ranking X higher than Y.)

• Who will win the STS Club election using this method?

15

No. of voters 14 10 8 4 1

1

st

choice A C D B C

2

nd

choice B B C D D

3

rd

choice C D B C B

4

th

choice D A A A A

1. Compare A versus B

• A is preferred by 14 over B

• B is preferred by 23 ove r A ! B gets 1 point.

2. Compare all other p airs

A vs C (14 to 23) ! C gets 1 pt

A vs D (14 to 23) ! D gets 1 pt

B vs C (18 to 19) ! C gets 1 pt

B vs D (28 to 9) ! B gets 1 pt

C vs D (25 to 12) ! C gets 1 pt

!C has the most (3 pts), so Cris is the winner!

Plurality-with-Elimination

Method:

• a sophisticated version of plurality met hod and is carried out

in round s

• eliminate candidates with fewest number of 1

st

place votes

one at a time, until a candidate with a majority of 1

st

place

votes emerges.

Example: Math Lovers Club election

# of voters 14 10 8 4 1

1

st

choice A C D B C A has 14 first places

2

nd

choice B B C D D B has 4 first places

3

rd

choice C D B C B C has 11 first places

4

th

choice D A A A A D has 8 first places

Round 1: Eliminate B

16

Plurality with elimination, round 2:

In round 1, B got fewest 1

st

place votes and was eliminated.

# 14 10 8 4 1 Round 2

1

st

A C D B C # 14 10 8 4 1

2

nd

B B C D D ! 1

st

A C D D C

3

rd

C D B C B 2

nd

C D C C D

4

th

D A A A A 3

rd

D A A A A

A: 14 first places

C: 11 first places

D: 12 first places

Therefore, eliminate C

Round 3: 14 23 A: 14 first places

1

st

A D D: 23 first places

2

nd

D A

Therefore Dave (D) wins, using plurality with

elimination!

Round 2

# 14 11 12

1

st

A C D

2

nd

C D C

3

rd

D A A

Summary: STS Club Election

Voting Method Winner

Plurality Alice

Borda count Ben

Pairwise comparison Cris

Plurality with elimination Dave

Q 4 methods, 4 different winners!

Q Which method is best?

17

Problems with the Different Voting

Methods

Q Earlier, we saw that the plurality

method violates the Condorcet

criterion

Q Are the other voting methods better?

Problems with the Borda method:

4 candidates, 11 voters

B gets 32 pts

C gets 30 pts

D gets 19 pts

B wins under the Borda method, even if A has the

majority of first place votes (6 of 11).

This violates the Majority Criterion.

A A D 4

th

: 1 pt

B D C 3

rd

: 2 pts

D C B 2

nd

: 3 pts

C B A 1

st

: 4 pts

3 2 6 # voters

A gets 29 pts

(4x6 + 1x2 + 1x3)

18

Majority Criterion:

E If there is a candidate that is the first

choice of the majority of the voters,

then that candidate should be the

winner.

Problems with Plurality with Elimination method:

Example: 3 candidates : A, B, C

# of votes 7 8 10 4

1

st

choice A B C A

2

nd

choice B C A C B has fewest 1

st

places.

3

rd

choice C A B B Therefore, eliminate B.

# of votes 11 18

1

st

choice A C C has majority of 1

st

place

2

nd

choice C A Therefore, C wins.

19

Problems with Plurality with Elimination method:

Example: 3 candidates : A, B, C

# of votes 7 8 10 4

1

st

choice A B C A

2

nd

choice B C A C B has fewest 1

st

places.

3

rd

choice C A B B Therefore, eliminate B.

# of votes 11 18

1

st

choice A C C has majority of 1

st

place

2

nd

choice C A Therefore, C wins.

Suppose the election was declared null and void (due to

irregularities).

A second election is held. The 4 voters (in the last column) change

their vote and switch their 1

st

and 2

nd

choice s (between A and C)

Since C won the first election, and the new votes only

increased C’s votes, we expect C to win again.

New election:

# of votes 7 8 10 4 Voters in last column

1

st

choice A B C C switch A and C.

2

nd

choice B C A A

3

rd

choice C A B B

Since A has fewest first places (7) eliminate A.

20

New election:

# of votes 7 8 10 4 Voters in last column

1

st

choice A B C C switch A and C.

2

nd

choice B C A A

3

rd

choice C A B B

Since A has fewest first places (7) , eliminate A.

# of votes 15 14

1

st

choice B C

2

nd

choice C B B wins this time!

This violates another fairness principle called the

Monotonicity Criterion .

Monotonicity Criterion

E If a candidate X is the winner of an

election, and in a re-election, all

voters who change their preferences

do so in a way that is favorable only

to X, then X should still be the

winner.

21

Problems with Method of Pairwise

Comparison

D E A B E E 5

th

C A E A C D 4

th

A B B D B C 3

rd

E C C E D B 2

nd

B D D C A A 1

st

4 2 3 5 3 5 #

A vs B: 13 to 9, A wins

A vs C: 12 to 10, A wins

A vs D: 12 to 10, A wins

A vs E: 10 to 12, E wins

Since A has 3 pts, B has 2 pts, C and D have 2 pts, E has 1 pt,

the winner using this method is A.

B vs C: B wins

B vs D: D wins

B vs E: B wins

C vs D: C wins

C vs E: C wins

D vs E: D wins

Now, suppose, that for some reason, the votes have to be

recounted. But before they are, candidates B, C, D become

discouraged and drop out.

E A E E 5

th

A E A 4

th

A 3

rd

E E 2

nd

A A 1

st

4 2 3 5 3 5 #

Eliminating B,C,D

gives:

The winner is now E ! Originally, the winner was A, but

when some candidates dropped out, and no re-vote was

made, the winner became E. This violates still another

criterion.

A E 2

nd

E A 1

st

12 10 #

22

Independence of Irrelevant

Alternatives Criterion:

E If a candidate X is the winner of an

election, and one or more candidates

are removed and votes are recounted,

then X should still be the winner.

Other fairness criteria:

E Unanimity : if every individual prefers

a certain option to another, then so

must the resulting societal choice

E Non-dictatorship : the social choice

function should not simply follow the

preference order of a single individual

while ignoring all others

23

Summary: STS Club Election

Voting Method Winner

Plurality Alice

Borda count Ben

Pairwise comparison Cris

Plurality with elimination Dave

Q 4 methods, 4 different winners!

Q Each method fails to satisfy some fairness

criterion!

- More precisely, it is possible that in a

particular election, a particular outcome of

votes will violate some fairness criterion.

Which is the best voting method?

There is no ideal voting method!

CHAOTIC ELECTIONS!

A Mathematician Looks at

Voting,

by Donald Saari, 2001

American Math. Soc.

24

Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem

Q There is no consistent method by which a

democratic society can make a choice that

is always fair when that choice must be

made from among several (three or more)

alternatives.

Kenneth Arrow, in 1952 essay “A Difficulty in the Concept of

Social Welfare” and PhD dissertation “Social Choice and

Individual Values”

Kenneth J. Arrow, b. 1921

1972 Nobel Prize, Economics

® Arrow proved that it is

impossible to design a set of

rules for social decision that

would simultaneously obey

all of the fairness criteria

below:

• Transitivity

• Monotonicity

• Independence of irrelevant

alternatives

• Unanimity

• Non-dictatorship

25

An Implication of Arrow’s Theorem:

® The only social choice function

that respects, transitivity,

unanimity, monotonicity, and

independence of irrelevant

alternatives is a dictatorship!

Arrow’s mathematical proof uses

concepts of order theory.

Remarks

Q Arrow’s theorem applies only to

ranked or preferential voting systems

Q It doesn’t prescribe a “best” method;

certainly doesn’t say dictatorship is

better

Q It does prove that no voting method

can satisfy at the same time all

reasonable fairness criteria (for all

possible outcomes of votes)

26

Are there alternative methods?

• Non-preferential methods - voters are not asked to rank

candidates according to p reference

• Best known method is the Approval Method – given a set of

candidates, voters can give their approval to as many (or as few)

of the choices. No ranking is made.

Features of Approval Voting (according to advocates ):

1. Easy to understand and simple to implement

2. Gives voters flexible options and increases voter turnout

3. Helps elect the strongest candidates

4. Unaffected by the number of candidates

5. Will reduce ne gative campaigning

6. Will give minority candidates their proper due

Conclusion

Q The concept of order is ubiquitous and important in

mathematics

Q Lattice theory and order theory formalize and systematize the

study of order; lattices are important structures for both theory

and application

Q Order is also critical in society, especially in decision-making

Q Mathematics allows us to analyze voting systems and other

social issues, but mathematics does not provide all answers

Q Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem shows that there can be no

perfect voting system; and that fairness and democracy are

inherently incompatible

27

End Notes

.The Math Lovers Election example is from P.

Tannembaum and R. Arnold’s book, Excursions

in Modern Mathematics, Prenctice Hall, 1995.

±There are various websites on the mathematics

of voting theory and Arrow’s Theorem (easy to

search via Google

©

) as well as sites devoted to

lattice and order theory.

¯Many problems in society and government,

such as fair division and apportionment, the

measurement of power, can be helped

analyzed using mathematics.

Hello…

28

Hello… hello…

29

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