I’m Anthony, a research intern here at FairVote. I am from the bustling metropolis of Iowa City, Iowa, where I attend the University of Iowa as a rising senior studying mathematics and computer science.
As a math student, I (surprisingly) do a lot of mathy stuff. I’m an undergraduate researcher in the University of Iowa’s Numerical, Parallel, and Optimization Algorithms Group, which focuses on graph theory, algebraic combinatorics, and algorithm design. I am also a research partner with the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (or the MGGG), which specializes in studying the mathematics of gerrymandering.
I’m often asked why my interests lie mainly in the field of politics. Aren’t mathematicians supposed to be ivory-tower-dwelling hermits who endlessly compute fractions? And how does math, ostensibly the most hated subject in the American educational experience, make its way into our discussion of politics?
For me, it started with an all-nighter.
It was my sophomore year of college, and I was tasked with writing a full-detail report on a contemporary political issue. At that time, the Supreme Court had just agreed to hear a partisan gerrymandering case called Gill v. Whitford, so I decided I’d write about gerrymandering. I’d also just watched an episode of Last Week Tonight on the topic, so I believed I was well-equipped to wait until the absolute last minute, then turn around and churn out eight thousand words on the subject. As it turns out, I was decidedly not prepared to do so.
I did, however, read about a mathematician named Moon Duchin who had given a number of talks about how math can be used to combat (what was thought to be) an exclusively political problem. I was so enthralled that I ended up twice watching her entire fifty-minute keynote speech and turned my paper into a case study of how mathematics and computers can aid the fight to strengthen and protect the right to vote. I knew then that my twin passions – mathematics and fighting for social and democratic equity – were both means to the same end. It was also then that I noticed it was nine in the morning and class started in thirty minutes, so I stuck my profound thoughts in the back of my head and hustled to campus.
Those thoughts, though, didn’t stay in the background for long. Since then, I’ve followed through on my goal to help make our electoral systems more equitable, and I am more than lucky to spend the summer working with FairVote’s incredibly kind, knowledgeable, and committed staff on voting rights issues that affect us all.
1 This claim is based on rigorous Googling of the phrase “what is the most hated subject in school” as well as the number of times “oh wow, I hate math!” is the response to my telling someone what I enjoy studying.