Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 4 News List

US Election: First votes already cast and counted

AP , HART'S LOCATION, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Marion Varney, seated, checks off voters' names as residents of Hart's Location, New Hampshire, cast the first votes early yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

The US' first votes were cast and counted just after midnight in a pair of mountain hamlets, with 35 votes for President George W. Bush besting challenger Senator John Kerry's 21. Ralph Nader received one vote.

The first votes yesterday came from the northern New Hampshire community of Hart's Location, where 16 voters chose Bush, 14 went with Kerry and one chose Nader. Minutes later, the 26 registered voters in Dixville Notch, about 80km to the north, split 19 for Bush and seven for Kerry.

The tiny communities have since 1948 sporadically 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 Bush over Democrat Al Gore. In Hart's Location, Bush won 17-13. In Dixville Notch, Bush had 21, Gore five and Ralph Nader one vote.

By state law, polls must be open between 11am and 7pm.

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 General Dwight Eisenhower upset party favorite Robert Taft.

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