Tiny Dixville Notch, N.H., gets first call on presidential vote

Dixville Notch voters usually cast ballots in the Ballot Room at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, seen here in 2008, but the hotel is undergoing renovations. Voting has been moved to a nearby location this year. Craig Davis/Craigslegz.com

By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com

It would be difficult to find a less likely epicenter of the presidential election than Dixville Notch, N.H.

The remote outpost 13 miles from the Canadian border has nonetheless claimed the distinction as the first precinct in the nation to report voting results on Election Day since 1960. The tradition was to continue in 2016 with the handful of registered voters set to cast ballots at 12 a.m. on Nov. 8.

New Hampshire law permits precincts to announce results as soon as all registered voters have cast ballots. In Dixville Notch, that takes about a minute – the precinct had only nine voters for the 2016 primary, and has never had more than 38 (1988).

Nonetheless, there always are news organizations ready to beam the results to the world before ignoring the isolated township in the White Mountains until the next election cycle.

Dixville Notch voters were of a single mind when they gave all their votes in 1960 to Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy. Craig Davis\Craigslegz.com

Until recently the event took place in the Ballot Room of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. The venerable hotel fell on hard times and closed in 2011 but is undergoing a major renovation by new owners, so the voting will be conducted next door in the Hale House.

We visited The Balsams two weeks before Dixville Notch voters gave Barack Obama an early lead on his way to an historic election in 2008 by a 15-6 count over John McCain.

It was a sleepy place, and it took some searching to find the Ballot Room tucked away in a back corner of the resort next to the billiard room. But the room was a treasure trove of U.S. political history with the walls lined with photographs and documents from a half century of elections.

As of 2008, every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, and most serious candidates, had visited.     There was a photo of Ronald Reagan, circa 1976. Dixville voted 29-1 for him in 1984.

The Ballot Room in The Balsams Grand Resort was a museum to U.S. presidential politics. Craig Davis\Craigslegz.com

There was another of a young Arkansas governor, William Clinton. There were many of the hopefuls who never made it: Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Robert Dole and Alexander Haig, to name a few. In November 2007, McCain and Rudy Giuliani stopped by while stalking the Republican nomination.

Entrepreneur Neil Tillotson envisioned attracting that sort of attention after he bought The Balsams and pushed to have Dixville Notch incorporated.

Until his death in 2001 at 102, Tillotson (inventor of the latex toy balloon) was the first person to cast a presidential vote each election day.

A couple of other small New Hampshire towns have joined in the midnight voting, but Dixville Notch has the longest continuous streak of doing so.

Despite the TV cameras and reporters who gather to dutifully report the midnight vote to the world, Dixville Notch hasn’t been much of a barometer for election outcomes.

The precinct usually leans Republican, beginning with a 9-0 consensus for Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Only in 1968 did the township favor the Democrat, when it voted Hubert Humphrey over Nixon, 8-4, until going for Obama in 2008. But when Obama ran for re-election in 2012, it delivered a tie for the first time, splitting the vote 5-5 between the incumbent and Mitt Romney.

During our visit in October 2008, we met the recreational director of The Balsams, who said he preferred to avoid the election-night commotion.

“You won’t find me here that night. Not with my name,” he said, pointing to his name tag. It read: “John Kennedy.”

“When Giuliani was here, he gave me a funny look when he saw my name tag,” Kennedy said. “But he shook my hand.”

The 2016 Democratic candidate is unlikely to pay much heed to the early results from Dixville Notch. Hillary Clinton didn’t receive a single vote in the primary in February, as all four went to Bernie Sanders – John Kasich edged Donald Trump 3-2 in the Republican primary.

Dixville Notch has never taken kindly to the Clintons. When Bill Clinton ran and won in in 1992, he got only two of 27 votes cast. Four years later, on his way to a landslide re-election, voters in the notch preferred Robert Dole 18-8.

So this isolated precinct will hold little sway in the outcome of the election. But the proud voters of Dixville Notch will have their voice in the democratic process, and as usual they will be heard first.

The venerable Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, seen in 2008, is undergoing a major renovation. The midnight voting will be held in an adjacent venue in 2016. Craig Davis\Craigslegz.com

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