3 Tiny New Hampshire Towns Vote At Midnight. Do They Predict Anything?

Tom Tillotson, center, watches as Donna Kaye Erwin cast the first ballot for the nation's first primary in Dixville Notch, N.H., in 2008. (AP)
Tom Tillotson, center, watches as Donna Kaye Erwin cast the first ballot for the nation's first primary in Dixville Notch, N.H., in 2008. (AP)

They say when Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter.

When Dixville Notch votes just after midnight Tuesday, will it be six more weeks (or more) of Trump?

Like Pennsylvania's non-predictive groundhog, not necessarily.

Its 100 percent turnout is quite impressive, if you don't consider that it hit its 38-vote peak in 1988, according to the Boston Globe. (The Globe also reported that only 10 will vote in the town this year.)

Those few votes will make headlines come Tuesday morning, as they do every four years — despite being one of actually three towns to actually cast midnight votes (Millsfield and Hart's Location are the other two). It also has proven not so reliable at predicting what will happen later that day as the rest of the state wakes up and waits hours to cast their ballots.

So why all the attention? Because it's proven to be pretty good at predicting what will happen later that spring (better than the groundhog). The tiny mountain town near the Canadian border, with a population that has dwindled to 12, has the distinction of correctly predicting the eventual Republican nominee in every election since 1968.

(There have been two ties in its history, though — in 1980 between George H.W. Bush, who did not become the nominee, and Ronald Reagan, who, of course, did; and in 2012, between Mitt Romney and... Jon Huntsman, who got two votes each.)

A rough primary record

In 2008, Barack Obama won 7-2, though Hillary Clinton went on to win the primary later that night. In 2000, George W. Bush took Dixville's primary, though John McCain took the state. Four years ago, Huntsman tied Romney. And Wesley Clark topped the votes on the Democratic side in 2004.

After Obama's landslide win in 2008, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver put it bluntly, answering whether Dixville Notch was at all predictive in primaries.

"In a word: No," Silver wrote. "There's no historical relationship between the performances of the two major-party candidates In Dixville Notch and their performances in the rest of New Hampshire — never mind the rest of the country."

Of this year's presidential hopefuls, so far only Republican candidate John Kasich has visited the town.

Beyond Dixville

As noted above, two other communities, Millsfield and Hart's Location, will also take part in the tradition this Tuesday. Hart's Location began midnight voting in 1948, though it gave it up for many years in 1964. A state law allows any small town with fewer than 100 voters to open polls at midnight and close them as soon as all registered voters have cast ballots.

Political nerds and Aaron Sorkin fans may remember the West Wing episode, "Hartsfield's Landing," a fictitious nod to these small towns in New Hampshire. In it, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman describes the small town of 42 people (Hart's Location has 41) that votes at 12:01 a.m. and reports results at 12:07 a.m., giving the press something to talk about for 21 hours before anything else happens. At the end of the episode, a reporter describes the scene at the ballot location:

"Two roads, no traffic lights, a filing cabinet and a countertop in the clerk's basement. But Hartsfield's Landing, New Hampshire, is where democracy begins for the world's only superpower. It's 12:01am, and the registrar of voters who's also the principal and only teacher at the Hartsfield's school, calls the roll of voters."

On the show, the fictional town had correctly predicted the presidential election — not the GOP nominee — every year since William Howard Taft.

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