Dixville Notch Finds Enough People to Keep First-in-the-Nation Voting Title

After a crucial election official moved away, the tiny New Hampshire town had just four residents and needed to find one more person to fill a selectman vacancy

In this Nov. 8, 2016, file photo, clerks tabulate ballots just after midnight at a polling station in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, the first voting to take place in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Alice Chiche/AFP via Getty Images, File

A tiny New Hampshire community whose tradition of being among the first to cast ballots for president in primaries and the general election was endangered now has enough people to go ahead, the town moderator said Thursday.

"We're all a go," said Tom Tillotson, of Dixville Notch.

Dixville Notch has been in the spotlight for nearly 60 years for casting votes just after midnight in the first presidential primary and in November general elections. 

But last year, the attorney general's office said the community was missing an official who is needed to hold an election come the Feb. 11 primary. The person who held that position had moved away. 

That left Dixville Notch with just four residents — Tillotson, his wife, his son and another person. If the community couldn't find a fifth person in time to fill a selectman vacancy, it would have needed to contact the secretary of state's office for assistance in joining nearby municipalities in order to vote.

Resident No. 5 is Les Otten, developer of the Balsams resort, where the voting tradition began. Otten said he plans to move to Dixville Notch from Greenwood, Maine, ahead of the primary. He already owns several properties in the New Hampshire community and is working on a $186 million redevelopment project in the area.

Only about 53 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election in 2012, but the heated and contentious nature of this year’s campaign has the potential to push turnout higher this year. Election Day began just after midnight on Nov. 8 with less than a dozen voters casting their ballots in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. That gave way...

"Having the New Hampshire primary without Dixville voting first is like having winter in New Hampshire without snow," Otten said by phone, adding that he voted there in the last presidential primary.

"At the moment, the importance of the tradition of voting in Dixville seemed as though it was something that needed to be paid attention to," he said. "It was something that was crying out for somebody to step forward and say I'll be the fifth guy."

A message seeking comment was left with the attorney general's office on Thursday afternoon. 

Dixville Notch drew notice after Tillotson's father, Neil Tillotson, bought the Balsams and arranged for early voting at the hotel beginning in November 1960. Neil Tillotson, who ran a rubber factory and is credited with inventing the latex balloon, died in 2001 at age 102. 

The elections have drawn much fanfare through the years. Voting was traditionally held in a wood-paneled room at the resort where political memorabilia was on display, but the resort closed in September 2011. Since then, voting has been held in a ski lodge or in a former culinary school nearby. The Balsams' new owners are still planning to expand and reopen the hotel. 

Nineteen of the Democrats running for president were in New Hampshire Saturday for the state party convention, an event that provides an important chance for them to woo political power brokers in the first-in-the nation primary state.

Dixville Notch shares midnight voting with two other places.

One is Hart's Location, a small town in the White Mountains that started the early voting tradition in 1948 to accommodate railroad workers who had to be at work before normal voting hours. Hart's Location suspended the midnight voting in 1964 and brought it back in 1996. 

The town of Millsfield, 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Dixville Notch, had midnight voting as far back as 1952, but stopped after a while. It decided to revive the early voting in 2016. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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