We Talked to the Dixville 6, the Midnight Voters Who All Went for Haley


The first votes in the New Hampshire primary have been cast in the township of Dixville Notch.

All six of them.

Nikki Haley took 100 percent of the vote, with 100 percent turnout. The polls — or poll, in this case — opened just after the clock struck midnight, as they have here for 64 years, to great fanfare. And 10 minutes later, the voting was done.

The event is as much a press spectacle as it is a serious exercise in democracy: There were more than 10 journalists for every voter, including representatives from major TV networks, newspapers, wire services and foreign press from over a dozen countries.

Ms. Haley’s unanimous victory came as something of a surprise to a first-time Dixville Notch voter, Valerie Maxwell, 54, who works for the resort where the voting was held.

“I wasn’t sure she would do it but I’m so excited,” Ms. Maxwell said. “We did not tell each other who we were voting for, so I wasn’t sure. But I’m really excited she did it.”

The township, just 20 miles from the Canadian border, was once heralded as a near-magic bellwether: The winner of its Republican primary went on to win the party’s nomination in every election cycle from 1968 to 2012. Whatever predictive powers it may have possessed were exposed by Donald J. Trump, who lost in Dixville Notch, 2 votes to 3, in 2016 to former Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio.

The loss of faith in its prognostic abilities perhaps precipitated the decline of its political draw. Once a destination for presidential hopefuls, Dixville Notch did not host any of this year’s primary candidates. That didn’t diminish the symbolic weight of the midnight vote for Tom Tillotson, 78, the township’s moderator, an elected position that oversees town meetings.

“My one vote isn’t going to swing anything, but maybe how we vote might give people some alternatives,” said Mr. Tillotson, who is unhappy with the prospect of another matchup between President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump. He hopes other voters follow the township’s lead in supporting another candidate.

Les Otten, the real estate developer who owns the Balsams, the resort that hosts the vote, said he was sick of the negative and pessimistic politics of the current presidential race. After all, the United States economy is among the very strongest in the world, he said.

“How is that something to be scared of? It isn’t,” Mr. Otten said. “That’s what our job as voters actually is: to turn off all of the politics, to turn off all of the second-guessers, all the pundits.”

Dixville Notch, population six, is home to not a single Democrat — its voter rolls list four Republicans and two independents. But Mr. Tillotson insisted that the vote here is less about the party and more about the process.

“The real message here is ‘get off your butts, get out there and vote.’ Everybody. Republicans and Democrats,” said Mr. Tillotson, a former Republican who left the party in 2020 and is now unaffiliated.

Dixville Notch was once not so special in its approach to elections. Other towns that used to vote at midnight, like Millsfield and Hart’s Location, opted to hold their elections at more normal hours this year, leaving Dixville Notch’s voters alone — save the journalists, of course.

In the moments before midnight, Mr. Tillotson entertained the assembled media with a yarn about his father, Neil Tillotson, who began the midnight voting tradition. As the younger Mr. Tillotson tells it, his father used to set his watch a few minutes fast, just to beat out the other early-voting towns.

“Well, I don’t know if that’s true or not,” he said, somewhat spoiling the tale.

Another voter, Annmarie Pintal Turcotte, 54, a real estate developer and business partner of Mr. Otten’s who made up more than 16 percent of the electorate here, cast her first vote in Dixville Notch and reported that the process was thoroughly enjoyable.

“It’s exciting, I think this is so much more fun,” she said. “I want to vote all the time now.”

Not all of Dixville Notch’s voters were enthused about the attention and the influx of press. Deborah Tillotson, Mr. Tillotson’s wife, politely declined to answer questions about the night’s hoopla — “I am not interested in having a conversation about this,” she said — and she remained in her seat next to the ballot box as the media scrum engulfed her five neighbors.

The Balsams Resort, where the half-dozen voters usually congregate in the aptly named Ballot Room, is closed for renovation, so the few voters, many journalists and two dogs (Maxine and Lucy) instead packed into the Tillotson Room in one of the resort’s outbuildings that was once home to the elder Mr. Tillotson.

Until his death at 102 in 2001, Neil Tillotson took it upon himself to cast the first ballot, claiming the unusual distinction of the nation’s first voter. Into his shoes stepped Mr. Otten, a ski-resort magnate who once owned part of the Boston Red Sox and many of New England’s storied resorts. Mr. Otten bought the Balsams in 2016 and has been trying to turn the hotel, which has slid into disrepair and today sits vacant, into a year-round destination with an enormous ski area to rival the largest in New England.

The spectacle of the midnight vote has captured the imagination of political enthusiasts for decades, and it garnered even more fame after the tradition was featured in an episode of “The West Wing.”

But Dixville Notch’s reputation did not proceed itself for Scott Maxwell, 54, who participated in the midnight vote for the first time on Tuesday.

“They forgot to tell me that part,” said Mr. Maxwell, a carpenter and husband to Valerie Maxwell. “I don’t remember when I found out, probably after I’d been up here two or three months.”



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