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Congressional Apportionment: Constitutional Questions, Data, and the First Presidential Veto - STIRS Student Case Study

Ryan J. Zerr
Department of Mathematics, University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota
ryan.zerr@email.und.edu

Abstract:  This case study considers the matter of congressional apportionment – how the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated among the states.  The perspective is an historical one, using the text of the U.S. Constitution and data from past U.S. Censuses.  Although a hypothetical contested U.S. presidential election is used to frame the possible implications, all of the work for this case study is rooted in actual historical information and events.  The case culminates with a consideration of the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

The case contains a number of historical vignettes which ask the reader to consider the decisions and interpretations made at the time.  An effort is made to place the reader, in terms of the information available to them, in the given historical situation.  This case should appeal to those with interests in history, political science, and/or mathematics.  Written as an analysis case, it can also be easily adapted for use as a debate or role-play case, befitting historical situations that often involved congressional debates on apportionment.  This case asks the reader to analyze quantitative evidence and use basic mathematics to reach sophisticated conclusions.  The case is writing intensive, and asks the reader to develop and defend conclusions through multiple brief papers.

Use in Courses:  This case could easily fit into a first-year seminar course or a liberal arts-themed mathematics course.  These are the two situations the author has direct experience with.  More conjecturally, it may be appropriate in certain history or political science settings.  The case asks students to produce a number of written documents, and thus is writing intensive.  Finally, because the case content fits at the intersection of history, political science, and mathematics, it could be used in any situation where integrative learning is an important consideration.

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Professor Zerr was named an AAC&U STIRS Scholar in 2014 and developed this case for the STIRS program.