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Interesting Counting Probability Problem

Date: 11/19/2004 at 23:12:25
From: john
Subject: Probability of an election

In an election two candidates, Atif and Bryan, have in a ballot box a
and b votes repectively with a > b, for example 3 and 2.  If ballots 
are randomly drawn and tallied, what is the chance that at least once 
after the first tally the candidates have the same number of tallies?

The lack of given values makes this very difficult.  I think that this
is a hyper-geometric distribution, but I'm probably wrong.



Date: 11/20/2004 at 10:01:13
From: Doctor Jacques
Subject: Re: Probability of an election

Hi John,

There is a nice trick for solving this problem.  It is attributed to 
D. André (1840 - 1917).

The number of possible tallying processes is the number of ways of 
choosing (a) positions out of (a+b), i.e.:

  N = C(a+b,a) = (a+b)!/(a!*b!)  [1]

We can represent the process of counting the votes as a graph, where 
the x-axis is the number of votes counted so far, and the y-axis is 
the difference between the votes for A and those for B.

The graph is a "sawtooth" line: at each step (when one vote is 
counted), the difference (y) changes by +1 or -1.

We want to count the number of possible lines where the difference 
reaches 0 at some point for x >= 1, i.e., the number of lines that 
cross the x-axis at least once for x > 0.

Every line starts from (0,0) and ends at (a+b, a-b), where a - b > 0.

There are three possible types of lines:

(1) The first vote is for A, and the line never crosses the
    x-axis. Let us call n1 the number of such lines.

(2) The first vote is for A, and the line crosses the x-axis at least
    once. Let us call n2 the number of such lines.

(3) The first vote is for B; in this case, the line always crosses
    the x-axis, since it starts below it and ends above it. Let us
    call n3 the number of such lines.

As these cases are mutually exclusive and exhaust all possibilities, 
we have:

  N = n1 + n2 + n3               [2]

In cases (1) and (2), the line passes through (1,1), and, in case 
(3), the line passes through (1,-1).

The cases where A and B have the same number of votes at some point 
are (2) and (3), and the probability we want is:

  (n2 + n3)/N                    [3]

Consider a line of type (2).  Such a line starts with (1,1) and 
reaches the x-axis for the first time at some point (k,0).  If we 
reflect the portion of that line between x = 0 and x = k across the
x-axis, we get a line of type (3).  Conversely, given a line of type 
(3), such a line always crosses the x-axis, and, if (k,0) is the 
first crossing point, by reflecting the portion of the line between 0 
and k, we get a line of type (2).

We can therefore establish a bijection between lines of type (2) and 
(3), and this means that:

  n2 = n3                        [4]

Now, n3 is simply the number of possible lines from (1,-1) to 
(a+b,a-b).  This is the number of lines we would get by ignoring the 
first vote (for B); this corresponds to all the possible outcomes (in 
any order) where A gets (a) votes and B gets (b-1) votes, for a total 
of a+b-1.  The number of such lines is therefore:

  n3 = C(a+b-1,a) = (a+b-1)! / (a!*(b-1)!)

Can you continue from here?  Please feel free to write back if you 
require further assistance.

- Doctor Jacques, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/ 


Date: 11/20/2004 at 18:32:22
From: john
Subject: Probability of an election

Thanks for the quick reply, but I need some clarification.  I 
understood most of your help and have concluded that the solution 
should be 2(C(a+b-1,a)) / C(a+b,a).  However, I'm not sure that I 
understand the part of your explanation about reflecting the graph 
on the x-axis and why doing so proves that n2 = n3.  Thanks for 
your help.



Date: 11/21/2004 at 03:23:05
From: Doctor Jacques
Subject: Re: Probability of an election

Hi again John,

This may be easier to see on an example.  Assume that a = 5 and b = 3. 
The total number of possible tallying orders is therefore:

  N = 8! / (5!*3!) = 56

All lines will start at (0,0) and end at (8,2), in increments of +1 
or -1.

One possible order could be:

  a a b a a b a b                [1]

and this would be represented by the line:

  x | 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
  --+------------------
  y | 0 1 2 1 2 3 2 3 2
       a a b a a b a b

where you notice that y increases for each "a" and decreases for 
each "b" (y is the number of "a" votes minus the number of "b" votes 
tallied so far).  It is not that easy to draw curves in this kind of 
mail message, but let us give it a try:


   3 |                   *       *
     |
   2 |       *       *       *       *
     |
   1 |   *       *
     |
   0 +---1---2---3---4---5---6---7---8
     | a   a   b   a   a   b   a   b

In the terminology of my previous message, this is a "type 1" path: 
it starts at (1,1) and never crosses the x-axis, which means that A 
always leads.  The number of such paths is n1.

Another possible order could be:

  a a b b b a a a                [2]

which gives the line:

   2 |       *                       *
     |
   1 |   *       *               *
     |
   0 +---1---2---3---*---5---*---7---8
     | a   a   b   b   b   b   a   a
  -1 |                   *

This line starts at (1,1) and crosses the x-axis the first time at 
(4,0)--this is a "type 2" pattern, counted in n2.

Note that, after 4 votes, the difference is 0, which means that there 
were the same number of votes for a and b in these 4 votes.  If we 
interchange a and b in these 4 votes, the result is therefore the 
same, and this gives the order:

  b b a a b a a a                [3]

which we can represent as:

   2 |                               *
     |
   1 |                           *
     |
   0 +---1---2---3---*---5---*---7---8
     | b   b   a   a   b   b   a   a
  -1 |   *       *       *
     |
  -2 |       *

The part of this line between 0 and 4 is the mirror image (with 
respect to the x-axis) of the corresponding part of the previous 
line: in that section, we replaced y by -y.  In particular, the line 
starts at (1,-1)--this is a type 3 line, counted in n3.

The point is that we can do that operation for any type 2 sequence and 
obtain a uniquely defined type 3 sequence; conversely, as any type 3 
sequence must cross the x-axis at least once, we can obtain a uniquely 
defined type 2 sequence by the same process.  For example, starting 
with the type 3 sequence:

  b a a a b a b a                [4]

we notice that the sequence crosses the x-axis the first (and only) 
time at x = 2.  If we interchange a and b in the first two votes, we 
get a corresponding uniquely defined type 2 sequence:

  a b a a b a b a                [5]

(I'll let you do the drawing this time).

This shows that every type 2 sequence corresponds to a unique type 3 
sequence, and conversely; the corresponding number of possible 
sequences (n2 and n3) are therefore the same.

The interesting point is that the number of type 3 sequences (n3) is 
easy to compute: we simply have to count the number of _all_ possible 
paths from (1,-1) to (8,2), which corresponds to all the possible 
sequences in an election where A gets 5 votes and B gets 2 votes, 
since we discarded the first vote for B.  The number of such sequences 
is:

  n3 = 7!/(5!*2!) = 21

and the probability of crossing the x-axis at least once is:

  (n2 + n3)/N = 2*n3/N = 42/56

If you write the binomial coefficients explicitly using factorials, 
you can reduce the above expression to a very simple expression in 
terms of a and b.

Does this clarify things?

- Doctor Jacques, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/ 



Date: 11/21/2004 at 08:30:33
From: john
Subject: Probability of an election

Wow!  It all makes sense now.  Thanks a lot for your help.
Associated Topics:
College Probability

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