DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. – Barack Obama came up a big winner in the presidential race in Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location, N.H., where tradition of having the first Election Day ballots tallied lives on.
Democrat Obama defeated Republican John McCain by a count of 15 to 6 in Dixville Notch, where a loud whoop accompanied the announcement in Tuesday’s first minutes. The town of Hart’s Location reported 17 votes for Obama, 10 for McCain and two for write-in Ron Paul. Independent Ralph Nader was on both towns’ ballots but got no votes.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t surprised,” said Obama supporter Tanner Nelson Tillotson, whose name was drawn from a bowl to make him Dixville Notch’s first voter.
With 115 residents between them, Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location get every eligible voter to the polls beginning at midnight on Election Day. Between them, the towns have been enjoying their first-vote status since 1948.
Being first means something to residents of the Granite State, home of the nation’s earliest presidential primary and the central focus — however briefly — of the vote-watching nation’s attention every four years.
Town Clerk Rick Erwin said Dixville Notch is proud of its tradition, but added, “The most important thing is that we exemplify a 100 percent vote.”
Dixville Notch resident Peter Johnson said the early bird electoral exercise “is fun.” A former naval aviator, Johnson said he was voting for McCain, but added, “I think both candidates are excellent people.”
Voting was carried out in a room in a local hotel festooned with political memorabilia from campaigns long past. Each voter gets an individual booth so there are no lines at the magic hour. The votes were quickly counted, announced and recorded on a posterboard that proclaims, “First in the Nation, Dixville Notch.”
The tradition drew spectators, including Tim McKenna, who drove with his wife 16 miles from Cambridge, N.H., to witness the event.
“Living in New Hampshire, you hear so much about it in the news,” said McKenna. “I think it’s a very historic election this year.”
Ed Butler, a Democratic state representative who runs the Notchland Inn in Hart’s Location, said, “Being this small and being able to be first just makes it that much more special.”
Although scores of states have voted early, the two villages are the first to officially announce the results on Election Day.
New Hampshire law requires polls to open at 11 a.m., but that doesn’t stop towns from opening earlier. It also allows towns to close their polls once all registered and eligible voters have cast ballots.
Hart’s Location started opening its polls early in 1948, the year Harry S. Truman beat Thomas Dewey, to accommodate railroad workers who had to get to work early. Hart’s Location got out of the early voting business in 1964 after some residents grew weary of all the publicity, but brought it back in 1996.
Dixville Notch, nestled in a mountain pass 1,800 feet up and about halfway between the White Mountain National Forest and the Canadian border, followed suit in 1960, when John F. Kennedy beat Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, the Republican, swept all nine votes cast in Dixville that year, and before Tuesday, the town had gone for a Democrat only once since then. That was in 1968, when the tally was Democrat Hubert Humphrey eight, Nixon four.
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