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Math and Life

That One Time I Rigged an Election

The first thing you need to know is that AP Gov was HARD.

4-7 Federalist Papers and/or court oppinions from 1810 (with obligitory write-up) was considered a light week. To many in my 10th grade American Government class, it was the first real academic challenge.

Needless to say, points were hard to come by. We liked to grumble about the eighth amendment every time the tests were passed back. "Daily grades" were no less harsh. So when it came time for our class' "mock election," many of us were counting on a healthy test grade to buttress our lackluster marks.

Here's the setup: At the beginning of day 1, everyone pulls a little ziploc bag out of a hat that contains some amount of fake paper money and a job. These jobs included things like news/media personal, political agent, special interest group, etc. I was the Chairman of the FEC. Each job had assigned duties—Mine was to administer the election. We could use our fake money to donate to campaigns and/or interest groups. These people could use this money to buy some amount of the class' attention to make policy announcments or to debate. On day 3, we vote.

Normally, when high school classes (especially AP classes) do this kind of multi-day activity, everyone "tries." What I mean is that everyone does the things they think they need to do in order to get the grade they want. This election was no different. Having just learned about the motivations of special interest groups, PACs, election campaigns, and the rest, the class went about emulating (to their best approximation) their counterparts in the real world. Before long, I had classmates coming up to my desk, saying "Noah, I know you really care about [insert special interest], and I was wondering if you would consider donating to our cause," fully aware that neither they nor I give a flying rat's patootie about their "cause," and that even if I did, my fake $675 would do absolutely nothing for anyone.

In the middle of day 2, the teacher made an announcement.

Upon winning the election, the "President" would be able to use their power to buy test points for $100 each and give them to whomever they choose. (The recipients of these points would be
announced publically.)

Now I probabally don't need to explain how brilliant a move this was on the teacher's part, but I will anyway.

First off, the winner can't simply award his or herself all their points. Aside from the obvious social backlash, we could probabally convince our teacher to reconvene our mock congress from eariler in the year to impeach the president and redistribute the wealth 1 . Secondly, we couldn't huddle in the hallway to arrange for one party to donate all their funds to the other on the promise that they would distribute the points evenly. Not only could they break their promise, but Ms. Teacherlady would almost assuredly notice, and award low points for not playing our parts well. Everyone was desperate for points, but subverting the system would end badly for everyone.

Suddenly, we all had skin in the game. The politics became real.

The Blue party, the presumptive leaders 2 announced they would distribute points evenly across all their donors. From their point of view, this move makes some sense. They thought "If everyone realizes we have the best chance of winning, some people will donate to us, and be incentivised to vote our way. The more people donate, the more people will think we are going to win, creating a nice feedback loop."

Given that the FEC donor database (which, remember, I oversaw) was public record, this seems like an entirely reasonable plan. It might've worked. In a game theory class, it might've instantly won them the election. But then politics got in the way.

See, our class was split roughly 70/30 Democrat/Republican. Actually, it was probabally more like 50/20/30 Democrat/Rebublican/Who the hell cares, but that's beside the point. There were strong Democratic currents running through our class, and the Blue party's canidate was a Republican. Worse, a vocal one.

When he made that announcment, some donated on the spot, but it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. The Green Party Candidate (a well-to-do Democrat) decried her opponent for his obvious corruption. She promised that, come innaguration day, she would distribute points to everyone.

Debates ensued. The Green party argued that if some people were getting bonus points without earning them, 3 it was only fair that everyone get an equal number of points.

The Blue Party countered, saying that donating to them was the logical choice: If Green wins, and you switched, you lose very little, (as the losses are distributed to everyone) but if Blue wins, your switching gains you much more.

At this point, the election was up in the air.

As FEC chairman, I was not allowed to donate to either political canidate. This restriction is meant to prevent corruption, but in my case it only encouraged it. If Blue wins, I get nothing, because I can't donate. Although I harbored some personal grudges for both canidates, I had a clear incentive for the green party.

Now that isn't where my head was at the time. I, being the good Democrat I am, was appalled at Blue's proposal: How could they think to do that? Those self-serving egomaniacs.....

Of course, any psycology student will tell you that my reaction was informed just as much by my personal stake in the election as my self-righteousness. (and maybe more) In fact, if part of my grade wasn't on the line, it's entirely likely that I wouldn't have done what I did next.


In attempt to "Promote social equity," (I actually thought those words in my head. I look fondly on many high school memories. That one I just cringe.) I decided to give the green party an........ edge.

I indroduced an "Electoral System" by splitting the class into 9 "districts" of three desks each, giving each district a single vote in the general election. Lots of people thought it was just a crappy imitation of the Electoral College. They thought I was "trying" just like everyone else was in the beginning. In reality it was a huge gerrymandering scheme.

Because all donations were public record, I had a pretty good idea of who was going to vote for whom. I filled in the gaps by asking around, and sometimes even asking people directly.

With that information, it was a simple matter of cracking and packing: either pushing 3 Blue voters into a single district, or pairing 1 Blue voter with 2 reliable Greens.

When it was all said and done, I predicted the outcome of all but one district. One of my "reliable Greens" had a change of heart. But other than that, the Greens took 6 of the 9 districts (67%) while winning only 13 of the 27 votes (48%).

I announced the results of the districts one by one (Careful not to mention the popular vote) with the pride of knowing I had done the right thing.

...and the satisfaction of earning 3 bonus points.


1my Republican friends tell me this is all congress does

2yes, we had polling. It was all very cute.

3my republican friends also inform me that blue party donors had to work hard to develop the skill of pulling money out of a hat, (the value of such a skill being determined by a free market) and that it is only fair that they get to reap the benefits of their hard work