New Hampshire voting opens in Dix Notch--with nine votes

January 10, 2012

— The voters of this tiny hamlet, all nine of them, have spoken. Very briefly.

The polls opened here at midnight and closed less than a minute later, and the tally was final by 12:05 a.m. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman tied, with two votes each. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul each got one vote. President Obama received his very first live votes of confidence — three of them.

In Hart’s Location, another village that traditionally votes minutes after Dixville Notch, Romney was a clear winner. There, the former Massachusetts governor took five votes to four votes for Paul. Huntsman took two votes, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took one and Gingrich took one.

New Hampshire election law permits unincorporated towns of fewer than 100 residents to open for polling at midnight, and Dixville Notch has done so since 1960, at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel high in the North Country, about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. There were nine votes cast that year, too, all for Richard Nixon.

A crowd of about 200 media representatives chronicled the entire 2-minute affair.

Tanner Tillotson, who is 23 and a grandson of the previous owner of The Balsams, obligingly offered his comments to a bank of TV cameras: “We’ve seen a tie in the Republican primary between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, and I think the voters should take that as a sign that they should vote for whom they want, rather than who might win. Dixville always has played this tiny but important role in the process.”

He voted for Obama.

While the results are expected to be certified by New Hampshire’s secretary of state, the whole affair was, with all due respect to a hospitable citizenry, a bit of a fraud. None of the voters actually live in Dixville Notch.

The grand old resort closed in October for renovations, and the new owners gave the more than 300 employees a severance package. Tillotson and his parents, Thomas and Debra, do own a home on the property but spend much of their time in Boston. The others have moved away to find work in other places. The state allows residents to retain their most recent place of registration, and so the sturdy loyal nine all trooped here to do their duty.

A local caterer set out vast trays of deviled eggs and chicken and ham salad sandwiches, and Ray Gorman, who worked at the resort for 33 years and now is hoping to draw unemployment, volunteered to come back and make sure there would be oil in the heating system to keep everyone comfortable in the large ballroom. He invited the protesters standing outside on ice in the 15-degree weather to come in and get warm.

John Kennedy, who was the recreation and activity director for The Balsams for 19 years and met his wife here, fished the bunting out of a closet in the laundry room.

The voter to cast a ballot first, selected from names on slips of paper in a bowl, was Jacques Couture, who worked in maintenance at The Balsams.

When his name was announced, Couture looked startled as the flashes popped in his face and the reporters shouted questions.

“Jacques, Jacques, do you consider it an honor?”

“Is it scary?”

“Jacques, why do you consider it an honor?”

“Is that Couture like fashion?”

“Yes,” Couture replied. “It is an honor.”

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