Democracy By Numbers

Sunday, July 2, 2023
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 17, 2021

What Is It

The United States prides itself on being “the world’s greatest democracy,” which adheres to the principle, “one person, one vote.” Despite this, its elections are often highly contentious—presidents can be elected after losing the popular vote, there is widespread gerrymandering and voter purging, and not everyone has equal representation in the Senate. So what can we do to make elections in the US more fair? And how do we decide what counts as fair in the first place? Is there some test or algorithm we can use to determine equal representation? Josh and Ray watch the polls with Moon Duchin from Tufts University, co-editor of Political Geometry: Rethinking Redistricting in the US with Math, Law, and Everything In Between.



Josh Landy  
Shouldn't everybody have an equal vote?

Ray Briggs  
Isn't majority rule just an excuse to keep minorities down?

Josh Landy  
Is a truly fair democracy even possible?

Comments (8)'s picture

Sunday, January 17, 2021 -- 11:46 AM

I propose that voting should

I propose that voting should be required of every adult. Then the math would make more sense. It is the sample size that gives us a race the the LCD instead of the mean.
What are your comments on this idea?
Thank you. Mark

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, February 3, 2021 -- 10:26 PM



I don't understand - "It is the sample size that gives us a race the the LCD instead of the mean." Can you clarify?

What is an adult? Is not voting a vote? How does math make sense of anything? Is the LCD something to be protected or repressed? How does sample size affect mean representation? Does mean mean anything in a democracy?

Instead of putting words to your idea can you clarify the " ... gives us a race the the LCD instead of the mean."?



Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, February 3, 2021 -- 1:47 PM

This was a good show.

This was a good show.

I am both relieved and alarmed by the recent national, local and even state elections here in Portland Oregon. This makes this show timely to boot. Now in the lull of unfortunate gridlock in the case of our nation and group think in the case of my city is a good time to think about the philosophy of democracy. Now is the time to think about what is best, not based on outcomes, but on representation of what we saw in the recent elections. That so much of my recent philosophical thought has been based on alarm harkens back to the fact that all philosophy is personal on a certain level. Maybe this show and post will lighten that load... probably not.

Moon presents the issues; One person one vote as founded in the 60's, Packing/Cracking, Arrow's Impossibility theorem , many ways to any one thing, efficiency gap and data transparency. Even random lottery based systems and naming conventions are touched on. Certainly ranked voting is the key reform that would compliment our current system. Even a simple two position ranking would greatly reduce the Nader effect that robbed Gore in his presidential run.

Ranked voting can also be manipulated. Michigan and Nebraska shared a college football championship when one coach manipulated his ranked voting to give Nebraska the coaches award. This sparked reform that we endure today.

Not all votes are equally valued. Not all votes should be equally valued. A large portion of US citizens would fail the test given recent naturalized citizens. Competency is undervalued as a criteria for voting. This aside, tests for competency have been used to disenfranchise voters however unfairly.

The Federalist Papers reflection on districting pre dates the party system in the US. Party politics changes everything with respect to those arguments which assumed a geographical and social reality that really never existed in the first place.

Hmm... what is best? Reversing Citizens United would seem first and foremost on my list. Regardless of competency we should not allow commercial entities suffrage on any scale. Money drives politics. Wealth inequity drives injustice.

Topology would seem to be the best approach if the spaces of interest could be defined in all the correct dimensions and to the proportions of opinion. Then the edges of this space could be minimized to allow the best reflection of democracy. It is likely that ultimately we are all best organized into water conservation districts than any math driven social or political network.

I like Moon's understanding. The Republicans won seats in the House and lost seats in the Senate and the Presidential election. Some might say this is democracy working. It is the government itself that is failing. It would be good to quantify the debates in our society so we all could understand each others thoughts better, if not our own. Data transparency with a nod to data privacy would go along way to getting our government and lives working again.

The revival of Conundrums in remote and interactive space was interesting. I wouldn't have been able to represent as well as George did to Ray and Josh. I thought that more a continuation of the discussion of Democracy as economic boycotts have their own reality. Early on, Conundrums were taken by one of the philosopher hosts, explicated and advice dispensed. This format was much more inclusive, back and forth and directed to the folk. Let's get that spirit back into our Democracy.

This was a good show. I didn't know about Arrow prior to reading Ray's blog or listening to this show.

Posted to Ray's Blog as well... which offers good foundation for this show and links for further thought.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 -- 1:47 PM

As a matter of temporal

As a matter of temporal proximity, there was no other current post where I might mention the following. Inasmuch as we have a new president, there is no further need to belate the sins of the former. On this date, at this time, we are, allegedly, getting some additional financial help. Good job, Joe. There will also be additional emphasis and resources regarding the global plague. So far, so good.
Now, there are always glitches and contingencies associated with politics. So I will not count any relief money as mine, I will wait, while continuing fiscal responsibility. Any other assumption or conclusion would be. My hope is that Mr. Biden means well. He appears to. But there are always those glitches and contingencies, aren't there?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, April 9, 2021 -- 5:19 AM

The question was: how can we

The question was: how can we make elections in the US more fair? I think this question is like the dog chasing his own tail. Here''s what i mean: the effect of having one person, one vote, along side an 'electoral college' cancels out one person, one vote. If anyone was unconvinced by the outcome of Bush-Gore, the 2016 election proved this decisively, IMHO. ( come on, now. the very idea of having the Supreme Court decide or rule upon the outcome of a presidential election is just wrong on its face! And, an election won by popular vote while that winner lost in the 'college', is equally ludicrous.)

I have heard all the reasons; all the excuses. The existing system, features of it anyway, negates chances for fairness. Solution? Change the system. If one person's vote counts, all persons' votes count. You can't have it both ways. Not unless you care nothing for appearances. I have claimed there is form and there is substance. And, therefore, when the first is paramount, the latter cannot stand. I stand by that. As a boss I once had used to say: you have to stand for something. You may know the last part of that counsel?

Daniel's picture


Sunday, June 18, 2023 -- 4:52 PM

In the second paragraph above

In the second paragraph above a remedy for current (circa 2021) electoral ills is offered which is constituted by the imperative to "change the system". What sort of a change do you have in mind? Although it was created in order to keep power in the hands of landowners, getting rid of the electoral college seems to me to be ill-advised, on account of disproportional geographic population density which would favor the larger urban areas and leave the rural areas relatively unrepresented where no urban proxies are developed. Ought a more direct democracy be set up which preserves the electoral college, such as an interstate confederation? Or would it be more practical to simply seize power in a coup in order to set up some form of monarchy and get rid of proportional representation altogether, as was attempted 1/06/21 in the U.S?

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, April 9, 2021 -- 5:42 AM

Oh, alright then. Use your

Oh, alright then. Use your search engine/browser. I did, and got to a book title. Old sayings get recycled. Again and again. Especially by opportunists who are trying to be somebodies.

mikosla's picture


Tuesday, February 27, 2024 -- 8:37 PM

I believe it would be a bad

I believe it would be a bad idea to do away with the electoral college because of the uneven distribution of population density, which would benefit bigger cities geometry dash lite

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