A Cape Cod town clerk had to print emergency paper ballots for the Massachusetts primary elections Tuesday after a mechanical issue with a vault locked election ballots away for hours in the morning.
The Barnstable town's clerk office unsuccessfully tried to open the vault that holds the election ballots at around 4:15 a.m. ahead of polls opening at 7 a.m., a Barnstable spokesperson said. The precincts opened on time, but voting was delayed. After the issue, polling places in the town were being kept open until midnight. The vault was finally opened shortly before 8 p.m.
There are 13 precincts in Barnstable, and each gets about 1,000 ballots.
The clerk’s office had thousands of emergency paper ballots printed for voters to use while they got a locksmith in to try to open the vault. According to the state's Election Division, the paper ballots that were printed were identical to the machine-readable ones, but will need to be hand counted after polls close.
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Barnstable's clerk said local firefighters and Department of Public Works crews couldn't get the vault open -- its arm was sheared off from the initial work and a locksmith was being called in from the Boston area to get it open.
Town Clerk Ann Quirk said they had just accessed the vault on Saturday when they were putting the suitcases filled with blank ballots inside it and locking it back up.
"It’s a real vault, it’s like a bank vault. If you don’t do the right numbers and you don’t do them in the right sequence, it’s not going to open up," Quirk said. "And so the thought was we just get the fire department out here and use the Jaws of Life, but that’s not going to work either."
But the ballots were secured after noon and all precincts had ballots, the town said. And Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin obtained a court order allowing polls to stay open until midnight in Barnstable, a news release from his office said.
"My primary goal today is making certain that every voter in Barnstable who wants to vote is able to do so. Extending polling hours was necessary to make sure voters have enough time to be notified and return to their polling places if they weren't able to vote this morning," Galvin said in the statement.
Earlier, he'd noted that more than 4,000 ballots were cast early in the town.
Both Galvin and Quirk want to ensure voters there is no election fraud or tampering going on.