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A tiny New Hampshire town retakes a tradition: voting at midnight

For the first time in more than 50 years, Millsfield (population: 29) voted after the clock struck 12.

A select few towns vote at midnight. This year, Millsfield became one of them again.

MILLSFIELD, N.H. — It was all over in 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

The 14 voters of Millsfield cast their ballots at midnight. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton won. And for the first time in 56 years, Millsfield voters again became among the first of the first in the nation to vote for president.

The voters who gathered in this wood-paneled bar aren’t the only ones who cast ballots while most of New Hampshire slept. Just up the road, in Dixville Notch, nine people voted at midnight, as they have for decades. And further south, in Hart’s Location — an actual incorporated town, unlike its midnight voting sisters — voters cast their ballots, too.

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Charles Sheldon watched Carol Pomelow cast her ballot Tuesday just after midnight.

It seems not everyone knows about the traditions, though. Earlier Monday, when a campaign worker called Millsfield resident Charles Sheldon asking if he’d be voting Tuesday, he said yes — at midnight.

The campaign worker hung up.

“I think she was dumbfounded,’’ Sheldon said.

At the Log Haven restaurant on Rt. 26, Tuesday’s polling place, the atmosphere was more reunion than civic duty. Someone brought in a tray of buttery cookies. A spread of sandwiches and carafes of coffee were for the taking. The sheriff’s deputies overseeing the proceedings swapped stories with the voters.

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There were 21 votes cast in all — 14 in person and seven by absentee.

The final results in Millsfield.

While the news stations broadcasted live from Dixville Notch — where the reporters outnumbered the voters — Millsfield was decidedly more intimate.

Nobody in Millsfield is quite sure when or why their predecessors started voting at midnight for a handful of elections and then abruptly stopped. The only record of the voting is a November 1952 Time magazine article detailing the seven voters who cast ballots in a woman’s living room after the clock struck 12.

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“It allows us to relive some of our history,’’ said Wayne Urso, a town selectman and organizer of the midnight vote.

Eight voting booths were set up for the 14 Millsfield voters.

Current Millsfield residents haven’t been able to track down anyone who last voted at midnight in Millsfield. Urso wishes he could.

“So we’re revisiting history,’’ he said. “But this time around, we want to make sure we leave some history behind in terms of the planning and photos and stories that are coming.’’

When New Hampshire’s Secretary of State Bill Gardner visited the town during a special election two years ago and mentioned visiting Dixville Notch and their midnight voting, Sonja Sheldon reminded him that it wasn’t just Dixville that had that tradition.

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Gardner had no idea there was another town that had voted at midnight. He told the town they should consider restarting their tradition in 2016, the 100th anniversary of New Hampshire primary voting.

“It’s always fun to find out some piece of history about New Hampshire,’’ Gardner said recently.

Mary Ann Mafera (right), a Log Haven employee, and a Trump campaign worker who refused to give his name were among the handful of observers in Millsfield.

Most town elections take place in the living room of Sonja Sheldon’s bed and breakfast. Polls open at 6 p.m., voters grab their ballots and mark their choice on the ballot in a corner of the room. Voting is usually done by 6:15 or so.

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This year is more special.

“Mr. Gardner suggested we take it back again,’’ Sonja Sheldon said. “And here we are. I can’t believe it … I’m really truly overwhelmed by it all.’’

Urso doesn’t know for sure why his town stopped voting at midnight. He has a hunch, though. Dixville Notch’s midnight voting was held at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, just a few miles away. Reporters who wanted to cover midnight voting had to make a choice between two tiny towns.

“Dixville is throwing a party with live music and the best food and the party atmosphere,’’ Urso said. “And in Millsfield, you can sit in someone’s living room and watch the vote.’’

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He suspects that when all the attention shifted to Dixville, Millsfield figured they’d give it up. Not this year.

On November 8, they plan to return with ballots in hand. Maybe in 2020, too.

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