'What's a race without a starting gun?' New Hampshire town of five to kick off primary vote
TORONTO -- Dozens of reporters and cameramen will cram into a living room in northern New Hampshire Monday night to watch five voters – yes, five – cast ballots in the United States’ first-of-the-season primary vote.
The midnight vote is a tradition in Dixville Notch, N.H. dating back 60 years. But the one-of-a-kind vote almost didn’t happen this year after the town’s population dipped down to just four people.
“I’d like to say I knew we’d pull it off somehow, but that would be an overstatement,” Tom Tillotson, one of the community’s five residents, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Monday.
After the 2016 election, New Hampshire’s state attorney raised concerns that some voters may have come from outside of town. Election officials ruled that, in order for the vote to count in 2020, they’d need at least five people. But the tiny community – located just 33 kilometres from the U.S.-Canada border – has seen a steady trickle of people leaving the community over the years after a nearby hotel shut down.
Fortunately, resident Les Otten – who has lived in Dixville on and off since 1972 – returned in January, thereby meeting the five-voter threshold.
“We like to think a New Hampshire primary without Dixville is sort of like winter without snow,” Otten told CTVNews.ca.
Results from Dixville Notch will be pulled from the ballot box just after midnight on Tuesday, about 20 hours before the majority of the state’s results are reported. But that’s assuming that all five voters show up. If not, they must wait until 8 p.m.
Dixville takes the tradition seriously. Otten has set up a voting booth in his living room, where a little wooden “ballot room” sign has been placed on the fireplace mantle. The vote typically takes just two or three minutes and is broadcast live on American television.
“We think we’re doing something that is far beyond casting votes for candidates. We are demonstrating democracy and how it should be practised,” Otten said.
Neither Otten or Tillotson wanted to share which candidate they plan to support. But healthy political debate is common for Tillotson, who shares a home with his wife and son.
“I have a millennial son who doesn’t agree with me on much of anything. We enjoy having arguments,” he said.
Otten, a registered Republican, said he’s narrowed down his options to two candidates.
“I suspect that I’ll make up my mind shortly before I vote. I know the things are important to me are climate change, balancing the budget, trade, immigration, and I think we need real tax reform,” he said.
Tillotson admits that it’s a little weird voting on live television in his neighbour’s living room. One of the main reasons he participates is in hopes of encouraging other voters to exercise their democratic rights.
But there’s also something about keeping a tradition alive – one that his father helped start back in 1960.
“Since then it’s become the starting gun for our presidential election process. Gee, what’s a race without a starting gun?”
Last Monday, Iowa held its caucuses in which former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg won the most delegates, beating out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a razor-thin margin, followed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice-President Joe Biden.