Small NH town keeps historic midnight voting tradition alive

New Hampshire Primary

UPDATE: The results are in – three write-in votes for Michael Bloomberg (one from the only registered Republican of the 5 voters), one vote for Bernie Sanders, and one vote for Pete Buttigieg.

At midnight on Tuesday, the small town of Dixville Notch will continue its 60-year tradition of being one of the first communities in the nation to cast ballots in a primary election.

With five voters expected to head to the polls, it’s the smallest total the community has seen and the minimum needed in order to continue the tradition.

For months, the town’s first-in-the-nation status was in doubt. It appeared only four voters would be on hand to cast a ballot. Les Otten, who has been connected with the town for years but also has homes in Massachusetts and Maine, moved back in time to become their fifth voter. He had a simple motive for doing so.

“It’s something I can look to my grandchildren and say ‘I was part of that, and I helped a community,” Otten said. “When I’m covered with dirt, what’s going to remain is what I did with my life, and I think that being a part of the political process and building a business in a depressed area is a good reputation.”

The Hale House at the Balsams Resort where voters will cast ballots is filled with photos of primaries past. Many candidates have visited the town of 12, the most recent being Michael Bennett. The tradition began in 1960 when Neil Tillotson secured a polling location. 60 years later, his son Tom Tillotson serves as moderator.

“He had moved here and realized that he’d have to drive an hour to Berlin or Lancaster to cast his ballot,” Tillotson said. “Coincidentally, he ran into somebody that told him about the midnight voting tradition, and he said ‘That sounds like a good idea, I can vote right here!”

Tillotson’s role as town moderator comes with some added responsibility – to be first in the nation, he has to make sure all five voters are ready to cast ballots at midnight. If they don’t show up, polls can’t close.

“I’ve done it with up to 38 people, and that’s a little nerve-racking,” Tillotson said. “It’s a process this county knows, it’s “Where’s somebody? Go to the dorms and find out if this person is sleeping!”

Otten said it’s also an opportunity to speak out about issues facing Coos County, including a shrinking workforce that’s affected everything from education to healthcare. He sees the Balsam Resort as a key catalyst in bringing the region back to its former glory.

New Hampshire Primary February 11, 2020

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