When the clock strikes 12, a handful of voters traditionally gather at the Balsams Resort to cast ballots
But last year, Dixville's once-grand tradition appeared to be at risk
Each election cycle, political journalists make a late-night pilgrimage over icy roads to this Narnia-like region near the Canadian border, where the locals have a tradition of voting at midnight.
When the clock strikes 12, a handful of voters traditionally gather at the Balsams Resort to cast ballots, giving them the bragging right of being the one of the first precincts to participate in the first-in-the-nation primary. The event is a celebration filled with food, drinks and live hook-ups for media trucks to broadcast the results around the world. (Not to mention the public relations boost for the resort.)
And many presidential candidates historically made it a point to visit before the vote in hopes of securing the early-morning boost of winning the overnight vote.
But last year, Dixville’s once-grand tradition appeared to be at risk. In 2011, the Balsams closed down, and employees who lost their jobs left the area. The remaining residents held a much smaller vote at the Balsams in 2012. This election cycle, only one candidate – Ohio Gov. John Kasich – has journeyed to these far northern reaches of the state.
Fearing that Dixville wouldn’t be able to carry the tradition, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner asked the adjacent town of Millsfield, which conducted a few midnight votes in the 1950s, to prepare to host a midnight vote once again. (Another village in the area, Harts Location, also has a similar tradition, but Dixville usually took most of the attention.)
For months, town residents in Millsfield have been preparing for the big night, even securing a larger voting space in a local bar to hold the election.
But despite Millsfield’s presence back on the scene, Dixville Notch isn’t letting go. A resort developer named Les Otten is revitalizing the Balsams, and he has effectively moved to the region with a small team that will serve as residents to keep the tradition going there too.
“I’m a carpetbagger,” Otten said. “But I felt an obligation to continue a tradition.”
The hotel is currently undergoing renovation, and Otten has plans to develop it into a premier four seasons resort. Those efforts, which would be completed by the next presidential election in 2020, would hopefully bring thousands of much-needed jobs to the region and give the area an economic boost.
Residents here hope that the revitalization, combined with efforts by the people in Millsfield and Harts Location, will be enough to keep the tradition alive.
“What we’re seeing is democracy played out on a national stage by a very small group of people,” Otten said. “This should be contagious. Everyone should want to get into the act.”