The voter carries hopes and dreams into the precinct.

She hands her ID to the poll worker and receives a ballot. She clicks a pen and peers through the list of candidates. Ink flows into boxes until they’re full. A machine scans the ballot, cementing the voter’s voice in the future of her community.

She leaves the precinct with head held high, confident she chose correctly.

Those hopes and dreams. Where did they come from?

What — or who — influences this vote and millions more?

Scholars from around the world will explore answers to these questions in a conference sponsored by Virginia Tech’s Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

The International Conference on Social Choice and Voting Theory is set for June 17 through June 19. Held virtually, the conference will feature prolific speakers and more than 90 article submissions.

Students, faculty, and the general public can attend free of charge. Participants will have ample opportunities to engage in discussions throughout the experience.

“Our conference will unite bright minds around the world and benefit anyone interested in learning more about the field of philosophy, politics, and economics,” said Eric Bahel, a research fellow in the Kellogg Center and an associate professor of economics in the College of Science.

Bahel, who conducts research in social choice theory, organized the conference. He hopes the conference will motivate students and early-career scholars to join the presenters in reaching the highest levels of the discipline.

Keynote speakers for the conference include:

  • Salvador Barberà, an emeritus professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and an expert in social choice theory whose research centers on public economics, incentives, and utility;
  • Franz Dietrich, a Paris School of Economics professor focused on social epistemology, collective decisions, ethics, the philosophy of science and economic methodology, and political economy;
  • Bhaskar Dutta, a University of Warwick professor who researches the formation of groups and networks, mechanism design, cooperative game theory, and social choice theory; and
  • Maggie Penn, an Emory University professor whose work focuses on social choice theory and political institutions.

The conference marks another milestone for the Kellogg Center. In 2020, the center officially launched after its beginnings as a program in philosophy, politics, and economics. The center serves as a hub for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and research-centered teaching in the humanities and social sciences.

“The Kellogg Center is proud to support this international conference and Dr. Bahel’s excellent research as a PPE fellow,” said Michael Moehler, director of the Kellogg Center. “Social choice theory is a genuinely interdisciplinary field of study. It is an important area in philosophy, politics, and economics with high social relevance. Three years ago, the Kellogg Center invited Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen, a pioneer in social choice theory, to deliver the PPE Distinguished Public Lecture on the topic of democracy and elections. This conference continues the engagement with this topic.”

Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the Kellogg Center connects faculty and students across a range of disciplines.

“The launch of the Kellogg Center and its transdisciplinary approach to the study of complex political problems — using the insights from philosophy, politics, and economics — connects with the research and teaching program started at Virginia Tech in 1969 by the Center for Public Choice, which anchored the Virginia School of Political Economy,” said Timothy Luke, University Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science.

“Eric has done outstanding work organizing the International Conference on Social Choice and Voting Theory,” Luke said. “The conference will build upon the university’s significant legacy in applied ethics and social science, while pushing the participants to deal with the pressing challenges to electoral democracy and public policy we all are facing today in the 21st century.”

The Department of Philosophy, another unit within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, also serves as a key collaborator in the Kellogg Center. Douglas Lind, chair of the department, expects the conference to tackle crucial issues through a global lens.

“With its impressive list of prominent international scholars, this conference will enhance Virginia Tech’s standing as a university that addresses important and timely issues of public choice, political resilience, and election integrity,” said Lind. “Conferences like this one are important venues for examining critical issues of acute concern both in the United States and abroad, and for forging interdisciplinary collaborations.”

The College of Science, as home to the Department of Economics, also partners with the Kellogg Center. Sudipta Sarangi, chair of the Department of Economics, said he’s delighted the Kellogg Center is the driving force behind the global conference.

“The College of Science and the Department of Economics are firm believers in finding interdisciplinary solutions to contemporary issues and in the university’s Beyond Boundaries vision,” said Sarangi. “I anticipate a long and fruitful partnership with the center where we will host many such conferences to address other pressing social issues.”

As conference organizer, Bahel hopes students and other attendees gain a better understanding of how social choice and voting theory affects society. To put it simply, he said, social choice is a branch of economics that focuses on collective decision-making.

“A perfect example for this: electing a public official. You have citizens with different preferences over the set of candidates,” Bahel said. “Social choice is about finding the collective choice mechanisms that satisfy desirable properties.”

Bahel suggests viewing political polarization and more current issues through social choice and voting theory.

“Think about the pandemic or a financial crisis. These are random events. When you go to cast your vote for a presidential election, you don’t know whether there will be a pandemic, a financial crisis, or a war,” said Bahel. “For example, nobody knows objectively if any of these events will happen. Voters have to assess, for themselves, the likelihood of these major events occurring. They have to determine which candidate would best lead the nation.”

For students, Bahel hopes the conference sparks new ideas and provides pathways toward a career in the field of philosophy, politics, and economics.

“We hope this will be an opportunity for current students and prospective students to see firsthand the topics explored in this vibrant discipline and to connect with other students and scholars,” said Bahel.

Advance registration is required for the conference. Further information about the conference and instructions for registration are available on the conference website, which can be accessed via this link.

Written by Andrew Adkins