FSem 132
Course Description

Fall, 2010

How should we elect our President and other government officials? Is our method of election fair to all voters? What is the best way to cast and record our votes?

This course will survey different methods of conducting elections and voting. This will give us tools to assess the fairness of our election methods in this country and how we might make policy decisions related to elections and voting. These policies concern both the ways of casting our votes – voting technology – and the election methods (Electoral College, plurality versus run-off and other election methods).

The first part of the course will compare different ways of electing candidates and the mathematical theory behind these methods. Methods to be considered include plurality (candidate with the most votes wins), different run-off methods, and other methods. It will also look at the two-stage process for United States Presidential elections where in the second stage states vote using a weighted vote (the electoral college). Students will be expected to understand the theoretical results and to apply them to specific situations.

 The second part of the course will consider different ways that votes can be cast. This will include the history of different methods of voting and their vulnerability to fraud. This will lead up to current debates about voting technology – how effective are different modern systems, such as electronically scanned paper ballots and direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, for accurately and securely recording votes and protecting against voting fraud. How can we systematically compare and weigh the risks associated different voting methods?

Instructor:            Chris Nevison, Computer Science
Office Hours: M, W 12:00 – 1:00, or by appointment
Class: M, W 2:45-4:00

Chaotic Elections, Donald Saari
Deliver the Vote, Tracy Campbell
Stealing Elections, John Fund
Hacked, High Tech Election Theft in America, DeLozier and Karp eds.
Electronic Elections, Michael Alvarez and Thad Hall

other readings from handouts or web pages

Midterm exam                                                25%                                 
laboratory exercises                                        20%
short paper on historical topic                         10%
Final group project                                         20%
Reading quizzes                                              20%
Class participation                                            5%    


There will be regular online quizzes on the readings. These will be due before the class in which the reading in to be discussed.

Laboratory exercises

Throughout the semester, there will be four major laboratory exercises. These exercises will involve working with the concepts introduced in class. Some of the work will be collecting data outside class, some of the work will be done in class.

Historical paper

Students will each do a short paper that analyzes an historical case of election fraud. This will be due about 2/3 of the way through the semester.

Final group project

The culmination of the course will be a final group project, which will include both a group presentation and individual papers. You will work in groups of three. The final project is worth 20% of your final grade (7% from the presentation and 13% from the paper). Topics may include the following: an analysis of election methods not covered in class, using the tools developed in class; a study of an instance of voting fraud from the past, with an analysis of how the technology provided the opportunity for fraud and how it might be combated; an analysis of voting technology not covered in class, such as internet voting, including a critical analysis of its vulnerabilities and how these might be overcome.

Presentation: The final presentations will be during the last week of class. Your group will present a summary of your project to the class, with each student discussing a specific component of the project. These presentations will be ~20 minutes long with 5 minutes afterwards for questions

Final paper:  The final length of your paper should be ~6-10 pages (1.5 spaced), whatever is appropriate to your topic. Each individual will write their own paper. The different papers from a group may focus on different aspects of the group project that the individual investigated or may by an overview of the whole project.

Weekly Syllabus