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Obama, McCain Get Early Votes

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CLARKE CANFIELD | January 8, 2008 07:27 PM EST | AP

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DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. — Residents of two tiny towns stayed up late to give Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain early victories in the New Hampshire presidential primary.

In Hart's Location, Obama received 9 votes, Hillary Rodham Clinton 3 and John Edwards 1. On the Republican side, McCain received 6 votes, Mike Huckabee 5, Ron Paul 4 and Mitt Romney 1.

In Dixville Notch, Obama got 7 votes, Edwards 2 and Bill Richardson 1. Among Republicans, McCain got 4 votes, Romney 2 and Rudy Giuliani 1.

Although this year's results were in line with the latest pre-election polls, neither town is known for foreshadowing the winners statewide on any consistent basis. For example, Wesley Clark, the retired Army general, won 14 of the 31 votes cast in the last Democratic primary in 2004.

Donna Kaye Erwin cast the first ballot in Dixville Notch and voted for McCain.

"I think he's somebody we can look at as president and be proud of," she said.

Tanner Tillotson voted for Obama in Dixville Notch.

"All the candidates can make promises, but I think he has the drive to get them done," Tillotson said.

Long-shot GOP hopeful Rep. Duncan Hunter attended the vote in Dixville Notch, where results were announced before 12:06 a.m.

"It epitomizes people-to-people politicking," Hunter said minutes before the votes were cast.

Hunter received no votes in either town.

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, two Democrats _ which included one who registered Monday _ 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."

The two places have a friendly competition about which is first to cast its ballots.

New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner recalls getting phone calls in years past from people claiming that Neil Tillotson had illegally cast the first ballot at The Balsams before midnight _ that they had seen it on C-SPAN.

"I'd say it was done on 'Tillotson time,'" Gardner said. "If he said it was midnight, then it was midnight."