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Ranges of statistical error and decisions by law department teams

If members of a law department vote choose contending law firms, vendors, software packages, offsite choices, or anything else, they ought to bear in mind that the winning outcome could be within a range of random statistical error. In other words, if the vote were held repeatedly, without any of the voters remembering how they had cast their ballot before, the outcomes would vary around some typical result point. The square root of all the votes cast by the team gives the swing either way that could happen simply from random fluctuations.

So, if ten team members vote on ten choices, and they can put all their votes on one or distribute them, you would have 100 total votes. The square root of 100 is 10, so if the two finalists are 10 or fewer votes apart, in the eyes of a statistician they got the same number of votes. With such closeness, a statistical dead heat, it would be wise to talk some more, re-vote, or drop the lowest vote ranked choices so that the votes are rejuggled. John D. Barrow, 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World (Norton 2008) at 161, discusses this.

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