Residents of Tiny Hamlet First to Vote in New Hampshire Primary
Feb. 16, 1988
DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. (AP) _ Citizens of the tiny resort town of Dixville Notch today gave Republican George Bush and Democrat Richard Gephardt the first bragging rights in New Hampshire's 1988 leadoff presidential primary.
In the town's traditional balloting at midnight, the vice president received 11 votes, beating his closest GOP rival, Robert Dole, who received six. Jack Kemp received five votes, Pete du Pont and Alexander Haig two each, and Pat Robertson one.
On the Democratic side, Gephardt received four votes and Paul Simon three.
Twenty-nine of the town's voters cast their ballots in flag-draped, individual voting booths, while five votes were cast by absentee ballot. Other New Hampshire residents had to wait until their polls opened beginning at 6 a.m.
''I don't think it makes any difference if you're the first vote or the last. It's the vote that counts - the privilege,'' said Town Moderator Neil Tillotson, 89, who cast the first vote in keeping with tradition.
And frequently, Dixville Notch voters have been on target.
''In the primary, Dixville has a pretty good record in choosing the eventual candidates for each party,'' said Tillotson's son Tom, the town clerk. ''It's just when we came to November, we'd frequently be in the wrong party.''
In the presidential primaries since 1964, Dixville's voters have picked winners eight times, a loser once and had two ties.
But in the November presidential elections during the same period, Dixville Notch voters have sided with the loser on all but three occasions. They picked the winners in 1972, when they favored Richard Nixon over George McGovern, and in 1980 and 1984, when they sided with Ronald Reagan.
The elder Tillotson came up with the idea in 1960 of making Dixville Notch the first town in the first primary state to cast ballots.
Tillotson, who owns The Balsams resort hotel where the votes are cast and a surgical glove factory that is the town's only industry, incorporated Dixville Notch that year to push the village into the national spotlight.
Every four years, most of the candidates or their surrogates make their way five hours north of Boston to Dixville Notch, population 47, to woo the handful of voters living 15 miles south of the Quebec border. They are followed by more reporters, photographers and TV camera crews than there are residents in town.
Residents take seriously their place in political history. They make sure to be in their voting booths by 11:45 p.m. so they can drop their ballots into the ballot box precisely at midnight.
''I think it is an honor to be the first in the nation to vote. And I think people in Dixville take it very seriously,'' said 14-year resident Gail Barba, a registered independent who favored Republican Jack Kemp.
''We realize there is pressure on us ... and we don't just pick somebody we don't know anything about. We study the candidates more and we make a decision based on that.''