Dixville Notch, NH, is a tiny unincorporated township of about 75 residents situated at the foot of the scenic White Mountains and home to The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. But the village's claim to fame is the legendary midnight vote, which often earns it “first vote in the nation” bragging rights. So, how did this all begin, and how accurate are Dixville Notch’s legendary predictions?
Back in 1960, a retired rubber industry tycoon named Neil Tillotson had Dixville incorporated for voting purposes—the nearest polling station had been 50 miles away. The township held its first general election that year in the ballroom of The Balsams.
Richard Nixon got nine votes; John F. Kennedy didn’t get any. JFK went on to win the presidency. Dixville chose Nixon again in the 1964 Republican primary. That year, the nomination went to Barry Goldwater. So why is Dixville considered something of a Punxsutawney Phil of the election cycle? Because since 1968, the Republican candidate with the most Dixville Notch primary votes has gone on to win the nomination every time (though in 1980, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush tied).
The town is less impressive at forecasting Democratic nominees—they chose Bradley over Gore in 2000 and Wesley K. Clark over John Kerry in 2004. Barack Obama cleaned up in 2008, taking seven of the 10 votes cast.
Though nearby Hart’s Location occasionally beats Dixville Notch to the finish line for “first vote” status, the village's verified electoral distinctions include the longest continuous record of midnight voting and the highest number of midnight primary votes (tonight will make 14).
From 1960 through 2000, Neil Tillotson was the first voter to cast his ballot, which he dropped into the box promptly at 12am, followed by the remaining constituents. The entire process takes less than a minute, and thanks to a law that allows polls to close after all registered voters have participated, the numbers are tallied and the results are broadcast just a few minutes after the hour. These days there’s a special “Ballot Room” where each voter has his or her own voting booth. Since Tillotson’s death in 2001, the first voter is chosen by random ballot.
Can Dixville Notch’s nine registered voters extend their streak to 44 years of accuracy predicting GOP nominees? We’ll find out around 12:05 am EST, when the votes are counted and the results are broadcast.
Here's a wonderful Boston Globe video about the origin of the tradition:
On the Republican side, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney tied with two votes each.