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The Dixville Notch Midnight Voting Tradition Almost Didn’t Happen

Marry Newman

Every four years dozens of journalists travel to a small unincorporated township in Dixville Notch, N.H., to tally the first primary votes in the nation, a tradition that began 60 years ago after millionaire Neil Tillotson realized he didn’t want to drive over an hour to the nearest polling location.

The event has evolved from a handful of wire photographers to every major television network to capture the first vote at the stroke of midnight. The vote takes place at a 144-year-old property, The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, where reporters in the room usually outnumber the voters.

The number of Dixville Notch voters peaked at 38 in 1988. This year there will only be five voters, and the vote almost didn’t happen at all.

The New Hampshire attorney general investigated the legitimacy of the voters’ residency in Dixville Notch after the 2016 election. The Balsams employees made up the bulk of Dixville Notch’s voting population but several longtime voters were no longer living in the notch full time after the resort closed in 2011. They were required to change their voter registration — bringing the number of eligible voters down to four — three of which are Tillotsons.

The state requires five, and the final registered voter turned out to be Les Otten, the new co-owner and developer of the Balsams. Joe Casey, The Balsams’ director of sales, is the fourth. Otten and his team had kept one of New Hampshire’s proudest political traditions alive.

“The original ballot box, the voting in Dixville Notch signs will all be here, albeit five of us voting,” Otten said. “The tradition will go on pretty much the same way it has since every presidential primary and presidential election since 1960.”

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