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Peter Fishburn
Principal Technical Staff Member, AT&T Labs-Research

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polling booth My first intensive experience with voting and elections occurred at Penn State in 1957–58 when I chaired a committee charged with managing undergraduate elections fairly and efficiently. This was the closest I've been to political machinations, and it has served well in my subsequent research on the design and analysis of election procedures.

After graduating from Penn State with a degree in industrial engineering, I completed my doctorate in operations research at Case Western Reserve University in 1962. Since then I've been engaged full-time in mathematical research with emphases in decision theory and discrete mathematics, both of which are central to voting theory and social choice. My early research on individual decision making under risk and uncertainty gradually expanded into group decision making by voting and election procedures. In recent years, I’ve devoted more time to discrete math areas such as graph theory, combinatorics, discrete geometry, partially ordered sets, and coding theory in response to the interests of coworkers and my employer, which since 1978 has been AT&T at Bell Laboratories and then Shannon Laboratories. This meshes nicely with my earlier decision theory work, which I have maintained at a less intensive level than in the 1960s and 1970s.

My first major publication in this month’s topic was The Theory of Social Choice (Princeton University Press, 1973). Later writings include Approval Voting (Birkhauser Boston, 1983) with Steven Brams, Interprofile Conditions and Impossibility (Harwood Academic, 1987) on paradoxes and impossibility theorems in voting theory, and numerous journal articles, many of which were jointly authored with either Brams or William Gehrlein. Brams and I recently completed a comprehensive chapter on voting procedures for a forthcoming handbook on social choice and welfare.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate both the vast array of real-life situations affected by voting and election procedures as well as the relevance of mathematics to their design and analysis. My most satisfying experiences in the area include the approval voting research with Brams, the redesign of election procedures for several professional societies, and an analysis and critique of how bishops are elected by the United Methodist Church. The last of these was done with my wife Jan and Arthur Hagy, a long-time Methodist pastor.