What’s next: Truly first in the nation

Last Tuesday, over 295,000 votes were cast in the New Hampshire Democratic primary — a record turnout. Senator Bernie Sanders won the primary, with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg in second and Senator Amy Klobuchar in third place. One of the first towns to vote, however, didn’t quite agree with the rest of New Hampshire. In Dixville Notch (population: 12, according to the 2010 census), Michael Bloomberg claimed victory. He wasn’t even on the ballot. 

Dixville Notch is an unincorporated community in New Hampshire that has held a middle-of-the-night vote for 60 years. In every primary election since 1960, eligible voters have gathered at midnight in the ballroom of The Balsams Resort. People cast their votes in wooden ballot boxes;, polls are closed after every eligible resident has voted, and results are declared immediately after.

Dixville Notch boasts an impressive 100% voter turnout: impressive, if you don’t think about the fact that only four people in the town voted in the Democratic primary this year. According to Vox, “This year’s midnight vote was nearly cancelled because the town almost missed the required five-person threshold.” Michael Bloomberg won with two write-in votes, and Sanders and Buttigieg were tied for second place with one vote apiece. Bloomberg also won the Republican primary with one write-in vote. 

Season 3, Episode 15 of “The West Wing” focuses on a New Hampshire town called Hartsfield’s Landing, which is based on Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location, another town with a similar tradition. Hartsfield’s Landing (population: 42), votes at 12:01 a.m. and reports results at 12:07 a.m. Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) attempts to convince a couple in the town to vote for President Bartlet. He believes Hartsfield’s Landing is important because the rest of New Hampshire doesn’t come in until 9 p.m. Josh says, “That’s 21 hours of the news having nothing to report but the winner in Hartsfield’s Landing. I want it to be us.”

On the show, Hartsfield’s Landing has accurately predicted the winner of every primary since William Howard Taft. In reality, Dixville Notch doesn’t have quite as impressive a record. Bernie Sanders received 100% of the votes (four votes total) in 2016, but did not win the nomination. John Kasich won the Republican primary vote the same year, with Donald Trump in second place, although the latter ended up winning the nomination and eventually the presidency. To its credit, Dixville Notch has been accurate in the past;: it gave then-Senator Barack Obama a landslide victory in 2008, with seven7 votes. In 2008, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight assessed whether Dixville Notch had any real predictive power. He said, “In a word: No.” Statistically, there is no relationship between performances in Dixville Notch and the rest of New Hampshire, let alone the rest of the country. 

So unlike its “West Wing” counterpart, Dixville Notch’s midnight voting isn’t much more than a quirky 60-year-old tradition: ,; that is, unless Michael Bloomberg somehow becomes both the Democratic and Republican nominee in July.