Michael Bloomberg took three votes — including one from the only registered Republican in town — to lead a crowded Democratic field in Dixville as the New Hampshire town continued its 60-year tradition of being one of the first communities in the nation to cast ballots in a presidential primary.
Bernie Sanders and Buttigieg each received one vote. It’s the smallest number of votes, five, cast in Dixville, whose tradition was in jeopardy when late last year it appeared only four voters would be on hand to cast ballots.
Businessman Les Otten, who has been connected with the town for years but also has homes in Massachusetts and Maine, moved back in time to become their fifth voter. He had a simple motive for doing so.
“It’s something I can look to my grandchildren and say ‘I was part of that, and I helped a community,” Otten said. “When I’m covered with dirt, what’s going to remain is what I did with my life, and I think that being a part of the political process and building a business in a depressed area is a good reputation.”
The tradition began in 1960 when Neil Tillotson secured a polling location. Today, his son Tom Tillotson serves as moderator.
“He had moved here and realized that he’d have to drive an hour to Berlin or Lancaster to cast his ballot,” Tillotson said. “Coincidentally, he ran into somebody that told him about the midnight voting tradition, and he said ‘That sounds like a good idea, I can vote right here!”
Tillotson’s role as town moderator comes with some added responsibility – to be first in the nation, he has to make sure all five voters are ready to cast ballots at midnight. If they don’t show up, polls can’t close.
“I’ve done it with up to 38 people, and that’s a little nerve-racking,” Tillotson said. “It’s a process this county knows, it’s “Where’s somebody? Go to the dorms and find out if this person is sleeping!”
Otten said it’s also an opportunity to speak out about issues facing Coos County, including a shrinking workforce that’s affected everything from education to healthcare. He sees the Balsam Resort as a key catalyst in bringing the region back to its former glory.
The Hale House at the Balsams Resort where voters cast their ballots early Tuesday is filled with photos of primaries past. Many candidates have visited the town of 12, the most recent being Michael Bennett.