NH Voting Begins at Midnight

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Residents of the tiny northern New Hampshire villages of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location are ready, willing and able as they are every four years. The 58 registered voters of both communities will cast their votes the first-in-the-nation 2000 presidential primary just after midnight on Tuesday, February 1st.

The 30 registered voters in Dixville Notch, population 33, will cast their ballots in, of all places, the Ballot Room of The Balsams hotel. The 28 registered voters in Hart's Location, population 42, are file their ballots at the Notchland Inn at the same time.

New Hampshire law requires polls to stay open until 7 p.m. unless everyone eligible to vote already has cast his or her ballot. Exit polling will take place throughout the day all over the state, but exit poll results will not be released by the media until the voting booths close at 7 p.m. By 8 p.m., a Democratic and a Republican winner in the New Hampshire primary will be declared via the exit polls. Actual ballot counts will not be completed until sometime on Wednesday, February 2nd.

Wire service reports say that the tradition of having everyone vote at midnight and closing the polls a few minutes later began in Hart's Location in 1948 when nearly everyone worked for the railroad and had to be at work before the polls opened. After letting the tradition languish there, Hart's Location revived it in 1996.

Dixville Notch began voting at midnight on election day in the early 1960s.

Both towns get a lot of attention from reporters and others, but neither community is known for foreshadowing the winners statewide.

For example, in 1996, Lamar Alexander won the Republican vote in Hart's Location and Bob Dole won in Dixville Notch. Pat Buchanan won statewide.

However, Stephen Barba, president of The Balsams, said, "It really has never mattered how we voted; what matters is that we vote."

While the hours before midnight are as likely to be spent swapping coffee cake recipes as kibitzing about the candidates, residents take the vote seriously.

"The kids often come to the vote simply because the parents involved know that it's a piece of history and a piece of Americana unfolding," said Les Schoof, innkeeper at the Notchland Inn.