Inside The Balsams' Ballot Room, A Longtime Home Of Midnight Primary Voting

Nov 28, 2015

For decades, some the first ballots in the first in the nation primary have been cast in the same place: the Ballot Room at the Balsams grand resort hotel in Dixville Notch.

Since the 1960s voters in this small unincorporated town in the North Country have met at the Balsams to cast their primary ballots just after midnight, well ahead of the rest of the state.

The Balsams became a primary destination thanks to its longtime owner, Neil Tillotson.

As a young man, Tillotson saw Teddy Roosevelt speak. Later he helped the US Cavalry chase Pancho Villa during World War I, and he also went on to invent the latex balloon. (This New York Times obituary includes these and many other fascinating tidbits about Tillotson's long life.)

By 1960 he’d bought the Balsams, overhauled it, and convinced the town to come by to primary votes at midnight. “There were seven of us at that time," he told NHPR not long before his death in 2001. "They were all Republicans. And most of them were related.”

Dixville Notch wasn’t the first town to do midnight voting but it quickly became the best known.

Members of the media outnumbered voters each primary night; Bill Clinton and both presidents Bush came by. Former hotel executive Steve Barba said in a promotional video that when John McCain paid the resort a visit during his first presidential bid, he asked for some alone time in the Ballot Room.

“He spent over an hour in here reading all of the captions of the pictures on the wall," Barba recalled. "He kind of cherished the fact that he was in the place where the first ballots would be cast.”

Exactly where ballots will be cast in 2016 is an open question. The Balsams closed in 2011 – there are plans for renovation but no guarantees they’ll go forward.

But officials say there will be midnight voting in Dixville Notch.

Whether they finish before the midnight voters in Millsfield or Hart’s Location – that’s another story.