Economics and the royalty election

David Herbert, guest writer
David Herbert, guest writer  
This year, Ferris State University demonstrated its commitment to diversity and inclusivity by eschewing the gender laden titles of homecoming “king” and “queen,” instead selecting the very first homecoming royalty in Ferris history.


With this year’s court consisting of two men and six women, it would seem near impossible that both men would be selected. In fact, if the royalty were selected by randomly drawing names out of a hat, there would have been an almost 95 percent chance that at least one woman would have been crowned royalty. And yet, this didn’t happen.


Did Ferris students “beat the odds?” Hardly. This outcome was entirely determined by, and could have been predicted by, simple economics.


First, let’s state the two salient facts of the situation: first, everyone who voted in the homecoming election had two votes to use. In principle, this means that the students get to vote for both their favorite candidate and their second favorite candidate.


The second thing we know is that the winners were the two candidates with the highest total number of votes. This sounds like a perfectly fair way of doing things and, indeed, it is.  But what if everyone votes for one man and one woman because they didn’t understand that they were electing “royalty” instead of a “king” and “queen?”


Then, all of a sudden one half of the total number of votes would go to the two men while the other half would go towards the six women. Simple division tells us each man, on average, will each receive 25 percent of the total number of votes while each woman will, on average, receive a mere 8.3 percent of the total number of votes.


While I’m sure there are some students who voted for two women or for the two men, I’m also willing to bet most students here voted for one man and one woman.


If just that is true, then the resulting election will see a disproportionate number of votes going to the gender that has the least number of candidates.
Fortunately, there is a very simple fix for this that I strongly urge the homecoming committee to adopt for next year: give every student only one vote. If everyone only has one vote, then there won’t be any systematic bias towards men or women.