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Dixville Notch: The New Hampshire Town That Votes at Midnight

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HU GUANGYAO/Xinhua/Landov

Dixville Notch, NH, is a tiny unincorporated township of about 75 residents situated at the foot of the scenic White Mountains and home to The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. But the village's claim to fame is the legendary midnight vote, which often earns it “first vote in the nation” bragging rights. So, how did this all begin, and how accurate are Dixville Notch’s legendary predictions?

Back in 1960, a retired rubber industry tycoon named Neil Tillotson had Dixville incorporated for voting purposes—the nearest polling station had been 50 miles away. The township held its first general election that year in the ballroom of The Balsams.

Richard Nixon got nine votes; John F. Kennedy didn’t get any. JFK went on to win the presidency. Dixville chose Nixon again in the 1964 Republican primary. That year, the nomination went to Barry Goldwater. So why is Dixville considered something of a Punxsutawney Phil of the election cycle? Because since 1968, the Republican candidate with the most Dixville Notch primary votes has gone on to win the nomination every time (though in 1980, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush tied).

The town is less impressive at forecasting Democratic nominees—they chose Bradley over Gore in 2000 and Wesley K. Clark over John Kerry in 2004. Barack Obama cleaned up in 2008, taking seven of the 10 votes cast.

Though nearby Hart’s Location occasionally beats Dixville Notch to the finish line for “first vote” status, the village's verified electoral distinctions include the longest continuous record of midnight voting and the highest number of midnight primary votes (tonight will make 14).

Vote Early

From 1960 through 2000, Neil Tillotson was the first voter to cast his ballot, which he dropped into the box promptly at 12am, followed by the remaining constituents. The entire process takes less than a minute, and thanks to a law that allows polls to close after all registered voters have participated, the numbers are tallied and the results are broadcast just a few minutes after the hour. These days there’s a special “Ballot Room” where each voter has his or her own voting booth. Since Tillotson’s death in 2001, the first voter is chosen by random ballot.

Can Dixville Notch’s nine registered voters extend their streak to 44 years of accuracy predicting GOP nominees? We’ll find out around 12:05 am EST, when the votes are counted and the results are broadcast.

Here's a wonderful Boston Globe video about the origin of the tradition:

Update (12:06am)

On the Republican side, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney tied with two votes each.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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