Election Results Can be Approximated

The letter by Jojo Quain on page 7 of the Daily Graphic of 17th December 2008 was well intentioned. The issue of 50% plus one making sense and its authentic use as a criterion for deciding a winner in an election has been addressed in a letter on page 7 of the Daily Graphic of Saturday, 13th December 2008.

However, a misleading statement in Mr. Quain’s letter is to do with the view that election results should not be approximated. Election results can be approximated. Approximations are accurate estimates within a given context. Within the context of the 7th December 2008 elections for example, approximations of the percentages to 49.13 for Mr. Akuffo-Addo and to 47.92 for Prof. Mills are accurate to two decimal places and do NOT change the results in terms of the winning criterion of 50% plus one or more than 50%. (Notice that 50% or more is not the same as more than 50%).

If in another context the votes for candidate A = 50.4% and votes for candidate B = 49.6% and the winning criterion is more than 50%, then approximating to the nearest whole number will make candidate A get 50% and candidate B also get 50%. A tie may be declared. The mathematics is correct but within the context of the criterion, it is an inappropriate use (in fact an abuse) of mathematics. In this context there is no need to approximate to the nearest whole number as candidate A has clearly won.

Principles and methods of mathematics should be well understood and applied appropriately to decision making, however sophisticated the situation might be. It is not just for convenience that we use mathematics. Rather mathematics brings out the fine details and ensures the efficiency, authenticity and transparency of decision making. We should study mathematics well to appreciate its beauty and power. So to conclude, I claim that election results can be approximated.

-Prof. S.E. Anku
President, Ghana Mathematics Society

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