Science Cafe event at Roosevelt bookstore focuses on voting systems

(Annika Cline/DD)
Andy Jennings, a board member of the Center for Election Science, discusses different voting systems at Lawn Gnome Publishing’s first Books and Beakers Science Cafe event. (Annika Cline/DD)

Lawn Gnome Publishing held the first event of its ongoing Books and Beakers Science Cafe series on Tuesday to connect the public with local scientists from a variety of fields.

Given the end of the election cycle, the bookstore, located near Roosevelt and Fifth streets, hosted Andy Jennings, a board member of the Center for Election Science and a Arizona State University doctoral graduate, for a discussion about voting systems and the mathematics of voting.

Science Cafes occur nationwide and can cover topics ranging from climate science to robotics to political science. They are characterized by their intimacy and casual conversations with local scientists. Lawn Gnome was no exception, gathering a free-flowing crowd of approximately 15 people who came and went during the event.

Eileen Kane, recruiter of locations and volunteers for Science Cafes, said she read an article about Lawn Gnome’s Geek Out events in the College Times and stopped by the bookstore, where she brought the idea to owner Aaron Johnson.

Kane said she hardly had to explain the idea. Johnson was on board immediately.

Johnson said his love of learning about science and books made the decision to host Science Cafes at Lawn Gnome easy.

There are Science Cafes around the Valley, Kane said, including one at Coach and Willie’s in Chandler and at Bookmans in Mesa.

Movies such as “Frankenstein” put science in a bad light, Kane said. The Science Cafes will promote science literacy, she said.

Jennings said he wanted to speak at the Science Cafe to spread awareness of other voter systems — a mission he personally shares with the Center for Election Science.

The moderator of the event, TK Campo, read part of Jennings’ dissertation in preparation for the event.

“It’s interesting how someone’s choice really matters,” Campo said.

Jennings explained how various voting systems are similar to and different from one another. He illustrated each system’s strength and weakness by encouraging the audience to vote multiple times throughout the event.

He discussed the United States’ plurality system, where the popular vote wins.

This is one of the worst ways to choose something, Jennings said, because it is possible for the winner to only be more popular by a very slim margin.

Jennings said the cardinal voting system is a better alternative. In the cardinal voting system, voters give a grade or score to each candidate.

Cardinal voting is a way we can help find a more compromised ballot, Jennings said. If the U.S. continues to use the plurality system, “we are just reinforcing the two-party dominance.”

Jennings said whatever system we have, “it should mesh with our psychological feelings.”

Meredith Arwady, an out-of-town visitor, said she would attend the Science Cafe at Lawn Gnome again if she lived in the Valley.

“I think it is really well set up with a good, relaxed atmosphere,” Arwady said.

The next Science Cafe at Lawn Gnome will be Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. Events are free to the public.

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Editor’s note: Jessica Zook, author of the College Times article about Lawn Gnome’s Geek Out events, works as a staff reporter and night editor for the Downtown Devil. She did not contribute to the reporting of this article.