Dixville's voting heritage goes back decades

By Barbara Tetreault

DIXVILLE NOTCH — Nestled at the state’s northernmost notch, the residents of Dixville are used to having the eyes of the country on them every four years.

Dixville-Notch-2000Thomas Tillotson, Neil Tillotson and Stephen Barba count ballots in 2000. (FILE PHOTO)Since the late Balsams Grand Resort owner Neil Tillotson persuaded the unincorporated place in 1960 to incorporate only for voting, Dixville has captured national and international attention. With a watch in one hand, the nattily attired Tillotson would vote exactly at midnight with a horde of media jockeying for position to record him dropping his ballot into the wooden ballot box.

In their first election, Dixville voters voted unanimously (9-0) for Richard Nixon for president over his youthful Democratic challenger, John F. Kennedy. Since then, Dixville has generally leaned Republican, though in 1968, the voters went for Hubert Humphrey over Nixon, 8-4.

It was 40 years before the voters again gave the nod to a Democrat for president when they favored Barack Obama over John McCain, despite two visits to the hotel by McCain. McCain, however, did win the Republican primary vote that year in Dixville.

Dixville voters could also display an independent streak as exemplified by the 1992 primary, when Libertarian Andre Marrou was the top vote-getter with 10, one more than voters gave George H.W. Bush and seven more than the three votes collected by Bill Clinton.

The hotel amenities, and especially the telephone system, attracted the press to Dixville, and within four years of Dixville's adopting the tradition, both Hart’s Location and Millsfield had discontinued early voting.

The closing of the hotel in 2011 appeared to threaten Dixville's claim of having the longest continuous record of voting at midnight. But developer Les Otten and his company, Dixville Capital LLC, have vowed to make protecting the tradition a priority in their plans to restore the resort and ski area.

Spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said the ballot box, signage and memorabilia from the original Ballot Room, including the framed pictures and newspaper clippings, have been carefully preserved until a new voting room is created.

Much of it was on display when residents gathered at the Wilderness Ski Lodge in 2012 to vote in the general election.

This year, the voting will take place in the living room of the Hale House (named for one of the former owners of the hotel). Since the death of Tillotson, voters will pick a name from a hat on election night to determine who casts the first ballot. Tom Tillotson serves as moderator.

Despite the fact that the hotel is not open and is slated for a major renovation, Tranchemontagne said interest in the voting tradition there is as strong as ever.

He said three major television networks have confirmed they will be covering the vote, and they have credentialed reporter coming from as far away as Ireland and Belgium.