There was no shortage of reporters for the first-in-the-nation primary midnight voting in Dixville early Tuesday morning. PAULA TRACY photo
By PAULA TRACY and MARTHA WELLS
DIXVILLE – Nikki Haley, the former United Nations Ambassador and governor of South Carolina took all six votes in the midnight voting in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary here beating former President Donald J. Trump in a bid for the Republican nomination for president.
Democratic President Joe Biden, who is running nationally for re-election, but is not on the ballot in New Hampshire, did not receive any votes.
All six voters, or 100 percent of the town’s registered voters participated in the election, in the living room of the Tillotson House, where dogs weaved in among reporters enjoying shrimp cocktail and sirloin bites, where a portrait of the late resort owner Neil Tillotson, who created the tradition in 1960, hung in the hallway.
There were four registered Republicans and two Independent/Undeclared voters who cast ballots in Dixville at midnight on Jan. 23.
They were outnumbered ten-to-one by members of the media representing publications in countries including China, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland who filed the results in real time around the world, thanks to a wifi password in the large home.
New Hampshire used to have three communities that held a midnight vote and this year, it was only Dixville willing to continue the tradition. Hart’s Location near Crawford Notch and Millsfield near Dixville both decided against the late hour and large media presence.
Millsfield was the first to begin the practice in 1936 and in 1948, Hart’s Location began. State records show that Ellsworth and Waterville Valley also tried the midnight vote at one time.
Dixville Notch takes advantage of a state law that allows a precinct to close if all registered voters in that precinct have cast ballots.
“It’s a tradition that has value,” Tom Tillotson said. “The value I hope we bring to the whole democratic process is an example of getting out to vote.” The vote features 100% participation by Dixville’s registered voters. Tillotson said he hopes the turnout and timing of Dixville’s vote encourages voters who see the coverage to get out and vote, too. “If our tradition conveys that, it’s something we certainly want to continue,” he said.
The midnight voting has a long history in Dixville
All registered voters in Dixville Notch gathered and were counted before the balloting took place, using six small booths with patriotic stars and Red White and Blue. Ballots were dropped in a simple wooden box reading “Dixville” before the votes were read.
In 2019, the community was at risk of losing its ability to conduct its own election and having to combine with another municipality for voting, as its population had been reduced to four people. That is one too few to hold all the positions needed to conduct an election in New Hampshire, including moderator, clerk, and checklist worker.
It got bailed out when a fifth person, entrepreneur and Balsams owner Les Otten, agreed to move there in time for the election.
Vans and rental cars parked in the dark shadow of the hotel, shuttered since 2011 and situated on 15,000 acres where Otten the former ski area mogul, hopes to work with investors for a rebirth.
The once candidate for Maine governor Otten noted that there has been a huge population boom in Dixville since the last primary vote in 2020.
The voting over the 64-year history has been primarily in the hotel.
It first occurred mostly among employees of the hotel who cast their ballots in the ballroom. It later moved to a room known as the ballot room but as the renovations at the resort are underway, the voting was moved to the home of Tom Tillotson along with many of the photos and memorabilia which hung on the walls in front of the large bank of television cameras.
As tradition has it, the polls are officially closed immediately after all of the registered voters have voted.
Most New Hampshire towns and cities have primary voting hours Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. though some will stay open until 8 p.m.
When the community’s five residents convened for the 2020 primary, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg received three votes as a write-in candidate. The other two votes went to Democrats Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. Sanders, the Vermont Senator, went on that day to win the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.
In 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden won over incumbent Republican Donald Trump, winning the votes of all five of the community’s voting residents.
Tom Tillotson, Dixville Notch Town Moderator, has been participating in the unincorporated township’s midnight voting for the presidential primaries and general elections since 1976.
Technically, Tillotson, a son of the late Balsams resort owner Neil Tillotson, was in Dixville Notch for the first midnight vote in 1960 but clarifies that he didn’t participate: “I was only in junior high school in 1960!” He started taking part in the tradition in 1976 after getting out of the Army and has participated in every first-in-the-nation vote in Dixville since.
Although now a staple of the event, the media attention the midnight, first-in-the-nation vote receives was not Neil Tillotson’s objective in bringing elections to Dixville. As Tom explained in a 2020 episode of The Trip Podcast, elections came to Dixville because after buying and moving to the hotel area in advance of the 1960 election, his father needed a place to vote.
Tom told The Trip Podcast host, Nathan Thornburgh, “’As the story goes, he at some point in his thinking process met up with a wire service reporter for the Associated Press. And the reporter told him about the midnight voting tradition, which had been going on since the 1930s in various towns, and my father thought it was a good idea—I can vote here in my house.’” Tom added, “’And we had all the facilities that made it easier for the press to work here, and phones in all the rooms. So that got it started, and it’s continued for 60 years.”
64 years since the first vote in Dixville, the scenery for voting looks different. The Balsams closed in 2011 and is currently undergoing a $300 million revitalization led by new owner Les Otten. Instead of the Ballot Room of the hotel, which held the vote for many years, this year’s election will take place in the Tillotson House, former home of the late Neil Tillotson. When asked what his father would think of the vote being held in his home, Tom said, “I think he’d get a kick out of it. He’d say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”
Tillotson explained the origin of the Dixville midnight vote in a 2020 episode of The Trip podcast: “It’s a tradition that has value. The value I hope we bring to the whole Democratic process is an example of getting out to vote.”
Paula Tracy is a veteran journalist with 30 years experience as a reporter in New Hampshire.
There have been additional media who credentialed within the last 36 hours – so the number of media is actually between 75-80. One the late comers is the Daily Mail from London.
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Charlie “CJ” Jordan
Manchester Ink Link
Lauren Owens Lambert
Philippines Daily Inquirer
Gene Del Bianco
South China Morning Post
Gene Del Bianco
Gene Del Bianco
The Straits Times (Singapore)
Gene Del Bianco
The News and Sentinel (Colebrook)
Xihnua News Agency