For David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, watching Port Chester's election was like seeing a lab experiment unfold.
"I teach election classes here and I've taught my students about cumulative voting," he said. "And the first question that comes up in class is, 'Will voters understand how to do this?'"
As one of two political scientists who are charged with taking the exit poll data, crunching the numbers and spotting trends, Kimball will be the first to know the answer to that question. Kimball and Martha Kropf, a political science professor who studies voting technology, will submit a preliminary report to federal authorities by July 9. They'll have more time to crunch the data afterward, as they work on a complete report they'll file in August.
Kimball said he's interested in mapping the votes each candidate receives to particular neighborhoods around town, providing a visual representation of focused popularity — or a picture that shows votes dotting the two-square-mile village like a checker board. Also of interest: Whether voters decided to "plump" their votes, election-speak for the method of casting all six votes for a single candidate.
Port Chester voters cast six votes because there were six trustee spots open, and in a refrain heard hundreds of times in the lead-up to the ballot, voters could split their votes evenly, cast them in any combination for a number of candidates, or put all bets on a single candidate by tossing them all six of their votes.
The raw numbers were released after the polls closed. They show the top three candidates — Bart Didden, Daniel Brakewood and John Branca — each received more than 2,000 votes apiece. Luis Marino, who made headlines as the first Hispanic candidate elected to a trustee position in the village, was fourth with 1,962 votes. Last place went to "Fluffy," a write-in candidate who captured exactly one-sixth of his voter's lever pulls.
While the initial figures give a few quick insights into the preferences of more than 3,000 voters, they don't reveal anything about how voters put the new system into practice. With federal oversight of local elections scheduled through 2016, the more-detailed look at voting records will help fine-tune the process for the next time around, village officials said.
Voting officials sought the advice of experts in composing exit poll questions, said Amy Ngai, director of the program for representative government at FairVote. The D.C.-based group worked with the village to implement the new voting system and educate voters on how to use it.
"We have been working with the professors in terms of drafting the exit polling survey, and we administered the survey," Ngai said. "We're in the proces of data entry right now."
With a surprising amount of media attention directed at the election, vote organizers won't be the only ones anticipating the study results.
"There's a lot to learn about this election," Ngai said, "and a lot of people are interested."