Image: Hart's Location votes
Jim Cole  /  AP
Marion Varney, seated, checks off voters' names as residents of Hart's Location, N.H., cast the first Election Day votes early Tuesday.
updated 11/2/2004 1:13:09 AM ET 2004-11-02T06:13:09

The nation’s first Election Day votes were cast and counted just after midnight Tuesday in this mountain hamlet, with President Bush and John Kerry each receiving 15 votes. Ralph Nader received one.

Minutes later, the 26 registered voters in Dixville Notch, about 50 miles to the north, split 19 for Bush and 7 for Kerry.

The tiny communities since 1948 sporadically have been taking advantage of a state law that allows communities to close polls early if all registered voters have cast ballots.

In 2000, both communities chose President Bush over Democrat Al Gore. In Hart’s Location, Bush won 17-13. In Dixville Notch, about 50 miles to the north, Bush had 21, Gore five and Ralph Nader one vote.

By state law, polls must be open between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. But nothing prevents a town from opening the polls earlier and closing after all potential voters have cast ballots.

Hart’s Location began doing just that in 1948 because nearly everyone in town worked for the railroad and many had to be at work before normal voting hours. Dixville followed in 1960.

National media attention to these “first votes” began in 1952, when the state let voters in the state’s earliest presidential primary vote for the candidates themselves rather than delegates to the national party conventions. The Republican primary made news that year because Gen. Dwight Eisenhower upset party favorite Robert A. Taft.

Small towns including Hart’s Location, Millsfield and Waterville Valley soon were competing to cast the nation’s first votes. Hart’s Location dropped early voting in 1964, only to revive it 1996.

Dixville didn’t get into the act until 1960 for the general election. Reflecting the state’s then-solid Republican leanings, Republican Richard Nixon beat Democrat John Kennedy, 9-0.

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