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The Electoral College in U.S. Presidential Elections: Logical Foundations, Mathematics and Politics

04/25/2007 4:00 PM 1-190
Dr. Alexander S. Belenky, Visiting Scholar, MIT Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals

Description: To the expanding list of presidential election discontents add Alexander Belenky. Unlike other critics, though, Belenky is not driven by politics but by logic and math. His close analysis of the Constitution and such federal statutes as the Presidential Succession Act suggests that there may be no safeguard, in extreme cases, against a stalemate in a presidential election. Belenky sees ways to improve the current system. In a talk peppered with election history and rule-making, he settles on a key issue: the increasing difficulty (and possible danger) of relying on the Electoral College to determine the outcome of elections. Bush v. Gore and the 2000 election might seem a cakewalk compared to future crises. -How come 538 people can represent or be authorized to vote for president instead of 200 million voters? That's the question," says Belenky. The current system, dependent as it is on Electoral College balloting, promotes -winner take all" politics, and appears to Belenky to violate the -one state, one vote" principle, which is basic to the Constitution. Based on the most recent U.S. Census, just 11 states control the 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency, and the rest of the country seems irrelevant to the process. Belenky describes a not-so-outlandish scenario, in which the population of voters surges in California, giving the state all 270 electoral votes (268 plus the two senators). Belenky acknowledges those who would throw out the Electoral College altogether in favor of the popular vote, but prefers his own middle road of modification. The winner of the popular vote both nationwide and in at least 26 states would be considered the winner. If no candidate wins in this manner, then let the Electoral College decide, says Belenky. This system forces campaign visits to all the states, and tries -to build on the existing system rather than reject it."

About the Speaker(s): Alexander S. Belenky is the author of books and scientific articles in the fields of optimization and game theory and their applications in transportation, industry, agriculture, environmental protection, advertising, brokerage, auctioning, and U.S. presidential elections. He is the author of Operations Research in Transportation Systems: Ideas and Schemes of Optimization Methods for Strategic Planning and Operations Management(Springer 2004). He is also the author of the books Extreme Outcomes of US Presidential Elections (2003) and Winning the US Presidency: Rules of the Game and Playing by the Rules (2004). He was an invited guest on radio and TV talk shows throughout the country in the course of the 2004 Election campaign. His co-authored opinion pieces about voting systems have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times.

Belenky holds a Ph.D. in systems analysis and mathematics and D.Sc. in applications of mathematical methods.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Engineering Systems Division

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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