updated 1/7/2008 4:56:32 PM ET 2008-01-07T21:56:32

Voters in two small New Hampshire villages prepared to cast the initial ballots after the stroke of midnight Tuesday in the nation's first presidential primary.

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Sixteen people were registered to vote at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. Another 29 people were prepared to vote at the Hart's Location town hall, about 75 miles away.

The middle-of-the night votes are closely watched, and the results are flashed worldwide moments after they are tallied.

State law allows towns with fewer than 100 people to open at midnight and to close as soon as all registered voters have cast ballots.

While most New Hampshire residents have to wait until around daybreak to vote, those in the two far northern towns have been going to the polls at midnight for decades. The Balsams, located about 20 miles from the Canadian border, has been holding its early bird voting since 1960. That's when former owner Neil Tillotson, who died in 2001, arranged for early elections by having Dixville incorporated solely for voting purposes.

Hart's Location began midnight voting in 1948 because most residents were railroad workers who had to be on the job during normal polling hours. Townspeople, weary of the media attention and the late hours, did away with it after the 1964 election but revived the practice in 1996.

In Dixville this year, there were three registered Republicans, one Democrat and 12 who were undeclared. Hart's Location had eight Democrats, eight Republicans and 13 undeclared.

With more candidates on the ballot - 42 - than voters in town, longtime Hart's Location town clerk Marion Varney, 86, wouldn't venture a guess Monday on how the voting would turn out. In 2004, Wesley Clark got the most Democratic primary votes in Hart's Location and Dixville.

"I don't even know for sure who I'm going to vote for," said Varney. "I think I might just close my eyes and mark the ballot."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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