STEM lecture breaks down close nature of 2016 election


(Photo illustration by Barbara Harvey)

Thomas Frey

Jay Cummings, an assistant professor of mathematics at Sacramento State, lectured about the different ways voting can work and how specific candidates win elections on Feb. 16 at the University Union’s Redwood Room.

Cummings talked about how third-party candidates have directly changed the results in five of the 57 presidential elections and how close this election came to being the sixth. He also spoke about different and more efficient ways voting could take place.

The most recent case of a spoiler was in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The spoiler in that case was Ralph Nader.

On election night that year, everything came down to Florida. Bush ended up winning by 537 votes. Nader, the Green Party candidate, received 97,488 votes. If he had not been in the race, Gore may have received the majority of those votes and won.

Cummings transitioned from that scenario right into the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, in which case Jill Stein was the Nader.

Three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — were all won by less than 50,000 votes and in each case, had all Stein voters voted for Clinton instead of Stein, Clinton would have won.

The 2016 race is not considered a spoiler, however.

In Pennsylvania, Trump won by 44,292 votes and Stein had 49,941. Cummings said that it is unlikely that 90 percent of Stein voters would have either showed up to the polls or voted for Clinton.

The other two states were much closer. Michigan would have likely gone to Clinton while Wisconsin would have been a toss-up.

“Without Stein, the race would have been closer, but Trump still would have won,” Cummings said.

Cummings also spoke about a concept of voting called “ranked choice voting,” which could have changed everything if it had been implemented. In this scenario, each voter would also vote on a second person.

Under ranked choice voting, if Trump or Clinton didn’t win a state with at least 50 percent of the vote, then the state would find out who the second place vote would have been for from among all other candidates and the voter’s vote would be effectively changed.

In this scenario, voting for a third-party or fringe candidate would constitute having no effect on the election outcome. A hypothetical voter could pick Stein, then put Trump or Clinton in second place.

“Rather than dismantle an institution we’ve had for over 200 years, which is the Electoral College, it’d be easier to close those margins with a system like the ranked-voting system,” said senior government major Puneet Purewal, who attended the speech.

Included in other choices for voting that Cummings talked about were the top-choice voting system and head-to-head voting. However, each have flaws.

In the top-choice system, voters order the candidates and each one gets a point value. What would stop someone from putting the major contender they dislike last? In the head-to-head voting, you could have hundreds of scenarios and it could end in a tie.

“I like ranked choice voting,” first-year math major Miguel Olvera said. “I see the way you rank them based on numbers. You can say that it’s pretty fair.”