By: David Maley
For several decades, the first ballot in the presidential primaries has been cast in a small, quiet town in New Hampshire. Dixville Notch, not likely famous for anything other than being the site of the first ballot cast, has gained significant media attention due to its long-standing tradition of opening their polls at midnight. While this tradition may seem more like ceremony rather than anything that might have significant implications for the November presidential election, the most recent election cast a revealing light on a certain issue that has caused a great amount of concern in the small New Hampshire town. That issue? A significant number of people lining up to vote at midnight don’t actually live in Dixville Notch. The exact reason for each individual voting in the wrong location is unknown, but it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to assert it is likely due to the considerable amount of media attention the town has gotten because of the tradition.
The issue was first brought to the attention of election officials when the clerk of a nearby town watched an individual she knew to be a resident of the neighboring town cast a ballot in Dixville Notch on the news. What is perhaps more concerning is the minimal extent of voting in Dixville Notch. Despite the location having such a storied history and prominence in the primary system, the voter list is actually incredibly short. In fact, fewer than a dozen voters cast a ballot in Dixville Notch in 2016. When this is taken into consideration, one can see the impact that even a few improper votes could have on the outcome for Dixville Notch. This discovery prompted a more in-depth investigation by Tom M. Flanagan, an election investigator who was assigned to Coos County. His investigation revealed that several voters were not residents of Dixville Notch. For instance, one individual who had previously lived in Dixville Notch for several decades at the Balsams Resort, which once housed many of individuals, had relocated to a nearby town when the resort closed down in 2011 but continued to vote in Dixville Notch because of his friendly relationship with the mayor. When contacted, that individual expressed no reservations about voting in his former town. He stated, “Does it make a difference when I vote for Donald Trump, whether I vote in Campton , or Newport , or Dixville Notch?” On the surface, this may appear to just be the consequence of a small town ignoring the fact that a long-time resident had moved just outside the town. However, Flanagan’s investigation uncovered some troubling details.
One such problem Flanagan identified was the registration of multiple residents at the Balsams Resort, despite closing nearly ten years ago. After contacting several individuals who were improperly voting, Flanagan was concerned about the procedural safeguards being implemented in Dixville Notch. Particularly when Tom Tillotson, the man responsible for overseeing the elections, justified the improper votes by claiming the individuals had a significant tie to the community. Flanagan’s investigation revealed even more troubling information; Tillotson was one of the individuals using the former resort as his listed residency.
Coinciding with the result of the investigations, another issue is arising. The town is running out of people who can conduct the election. After serious concerns were raised about the integrity of their primary elections based on the residency of voters, failing to have enough people to conduct the election is an additional blemish that may impact the towns long-standing tradition. As the 2020 primaries approach, Dixville Notch might lose its place as the “first in the Nation” if they are unable to “fill seven positions to stay in compliance” with voting regulations. As the voting rolls continue to shrink, it looks more and more like some other place will fill the role as the first presidential primary location while the state attempts to reestablish a voting system with sufficient procedural safeguards.