Why winning a lot of counties doesn’t mean much.

Biden won about 500 counties. Trump won about 2400. It’s a striking statistic that boils down to two distinct facts. First, “county” doesn’t mean the same thing in different states. Second, even within the same state, counties are very far from equal.

Red states have more counties

In general, the largest numbers of counties are found in the southeastern states and the Midwest. Northeastern and western states have the fewest counties. This geographic pattern happens — coincidentally — to align with current regional divides in politics.

Counties in western states were usually formed when the states were very sparsely populated. It’s hard to justify a…


A step forward.

In 2008 and 2010, California voters went to the ballot box and voted on three electoral reform measures. The reformers won all three ballots.

  • Proposition 11 established the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) and gave it the power to draw legislative districts.
  • Proposition 14 established the top-two primary system.
  • Proposition 20 expanded the CCRC’s mandate to include Congressional maps.

The most prominent supporter of all elements of this reform package was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a non-traditional Republican who had been initially elected in a way that bypassed the normal primary process. As noted above, these reforms were passed into law…


Part 1: Heir to the Empire

This May 4th, I decided to put the Thrawn trilogy in my reading queue. I’ve read them before, but the last time was sometime before Disney put out The Last Jedi. Once upon a time, as a young Star Wars fan, I thought that the prequels had completely overturned a lot in Star Wars novels written before The Phantom Menace.

Now that I’ve finished re-reading Heir to the Empire, I’m left thinking that I really didn’t have the proper perspective at the time. In broad strokes, I think the Thrawn trilogy fits better with the prequels than the Disney sequels…


Theorems of two Kenneths

In some ways, the field of voting theory can be seen as having been shaped by two French mathematicians (Jean Charles de Borda and Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat). The course of modern voting theory can largely be explained in terms of two theorems published in the 1950s by two Kenneths: The positive result of Kenneth May, and the negative result of Kenneth Arrow.

May’s theorem

May’s theorem, published in 1952, is simple and straightforward, which is why it is often overlooked. It can be described as follows:

If a voting system for deciding between two options always produces a winner…


Questioning an article that makes a statement.

Nathanial Rakich and Lauren Bronner recently published a feature titled Advantage, GOP on FiveThirtyEight. The thesis of the piece is that the deck is stacked in favor of the Republican Party. This is a dangerously wrong simplification, and it exaggerates the degree to which the system is undemocratically stacked in favor of the GOP.

And it’s not just the Senate — the Electoral College, the House of Representatives and state legislatures are all tilted in favor of the GOP.

It is dangerous for two reasons. Democrats are given a reason to discount elections as illegitimate and disengage from the democratic…


When majority votes can’t solve the problem.

Three people come together to try to make a decision — perhaps something as simple as what to have for dinner. The first suggestion made is spaghetti, but it turns out that two of them would rather have pizza. Then one person suggests lasagna would be better than pizza, and is quickly seconded.

But, adds the second, they would rather simply have spaghetti than lasagna. The third agrees. The first person groans in frustration and picks up a Chinese takeout menu. …


A brief introduction

In a nutshell, voting theory, also known as social choice theory, is the theory of how to go from a set of individual desires to a common social outcome. Each one of these methods is known as a voting system or voting rule. For example, most jurisdictions within the United States use either plurality voting or a plurality with majority runoff. Maine has adopted a system known as ranked choice voting (previously known as instant runoff voting).

This area is closely related to decision theory and game theory. Voting theory is mathematical, relying on breaking down different voting systems logically…


Why the physical short is bad.

The recent Gamestop short squeeze highlighted short selling. As I’ve explained here at slightly greater length, a short sale is basically selling an IOU note denominated in stock. After completing the short sale, the short seller holds some amount of cash and has the obligation to deliver a share of stock to another person at a particular point in time.

This is true both for “naked” short selling (theoretically illegal) and “covered” short selling (entirely legal). The difference with a “covered” short is that there is a small fee involved. This is sometimes known more precisely as a “physical short,”…


The simplest explanation of shorts you’ll read today.

At its most basic essence, selling short is selling an IOU note. There are several variations on how a “short sale” works, but at the end of the transaction, here’s the situation:

  • The short seller has cash.
  • The short seller owes someone else one or more shares of a specific stock.

That’s it. From the perspective of the short seller, they have effectively sold an IOU (“I owe you”) note denominated in shares of a specific stock. This is true for both “naked” shorts and “covered” shorts. …


Even when the electoral count was exciting, it was peaceful.

On January 6th, 2021, an armed force of Trumpists stormed the United States Capitol Building. Congress was interrupted in the middle of an American ritual that had been completed every four years since 1789: Counting the electoral votes. This has never been interrupted before.

The counting of the electoral votes has been marked by both small and large controversies over the course of American history. Lesser controversies included technical irregularities with Vermont’s electoral votes in 1796 and Georgia’s electoral votes in 1800. Both sets of votes were counted without lasting controversy.

Tomas McIntee

Dr. Tomas McIntee is a mathematician and occasional social scientist with stray degrees in physics and philosophy.

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