US Presidential Election 2016 roadmap

Small town in race to be first to vote

Mr Bill King, the town's fire warden, and his wife Carolyn outside the town hall in Hart's Location. The whole process of voting, closing the polls and counting the votes reportedly takes just eight or nine minutes.
Mr Bill King, the town's fire warden, and his wife Carolyn outside the town hall in Hart's Location. The whole process of voting, closing the polls and counting the votes reportedly takes just eight or nine minutes.ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM

On the eve of election night, the sleepy town of Hart's Location suddenly comes to life at 11pm.

Around 40 of the town's residents gather at the Town Hall - a small makeshift building off the highway - for coffee and homemade cake.

Mrs Carolyn King, 74, who holds the unofficial title "supervisor of the checklist", goes through her name list to make sure all the voters in the town are accounted for.

Others prep the 10 voting booths so that everything is in order, and minutes before midnight, residents line up in alphabetical order, ready to cast their vote for president of the United States.

Hart's Location is not alone in its quest to be the first in the nation to vote. Two communities farther north - Dixville Notch and Millsfield - have also staked their claim to the title.

The aim: to be the first town in the United States to declare their results for the election.

This tradition - which occurs during the New Hampshire presidential primaries and the US presidential election - began in 1948 but lapsed in the 1960s before it was reinstated in 1996.

"We just wanted to do it, and it's fun," said the town's state representative Ed Butler, who owns an inn in Hart's Location, where eco-tourism is one of the main industries. He said the whole process of voting, closing the polls and counting the presidential vote takes just eight or nine minutes.

The results are immediately reported to the state capitol in Concord, and news agencies are alerted by fax.

But Hart's Location is not alone in its quest to be first in the nation to vote. Two other communities farther north - Dixville Notch and Millsfield - have also staked their claim to the title.

Plugging his home town, Mr Butler said: "We are the only real town that does the first vote."

He explained that a town in the US must have its own elected representatives, which Millsfield and Dixville Notch do not have.

Because Hart's Location is so small - with under 20 families - almost everyone has a role to play in the community. The town's fire warden Bill King, 81, joked: "You better be at a local election to defend yourself if you don't want your name on the ballot."

As general election fever hots up, the town is looking forward to another round of election-time coffee, cake and competition. Said Mrs King: "It's the big night out!"

WATCH THE VIDEO ONLINE
US Correspondent Melissa Sim in Hart's Location - a town in a different kind of election race. http://str.sg/Pz7

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Small town in race to be first to vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe