HULL − The state has said it will not count nearly 100 ballots cast between 8 and 10 p.m. Monday and has called into question the validity of the entire town election after a large house fire prevented potential voters from accessing the polls.
The six-alarm fire blocked traffic to Hull High School, the town’s only polling place, for an hour and a half. The road reopened at 7 p.m. Monday, an hour before polls were initially set to close.
Hull officials made the last-minute decision to extend voting by two hours to accommodate those who wished to vote, and retroactively asked Plymouth County Superior Court to authorize the extension and permit the counting of ballots cast during that time.
On Wednesday night, the town was told the votes would not be counted and “the court’s decision also calls into question the validity of the election due to the unfortunate disruption of the voting,” the clerk’s website reads. “The town is reviewing the decision and determining the next steps.”
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According to Hull Town Clerk Lori West’s petition to the court, she and town attorney James Lampke consulted with the elections division at the secretary of state’s office before they decided to keep the polls open for two hours beyond the scheduled closing time. Efforts to reach a judge for an emergency order afterhours on Monday were unsuccessful, the petition says.
The town told residents about the extension using an emergency phone system some residents were signed up for, as well as robocalls, social media and Hull Community Cable. West said the candidates, most of whom were at the polls throughout the day, were notified of the decision and were “receptive and understanding.”
“Everyone involved in the process stepped up to the plate to do the right thing and make the best of an unusual situation,” Lampke said.
West’s petition says “80 or so votes” were cast between 8 and 10 p.m., enough to swing at least one race on the ballot.
“Until the election results are finalized and certified by the town clerk, she cannot administer the oath of office to some of the candidates where the race was too close to call,” the petition reads.
Court calls for new election to count votes of ‘disenfranchised’ residents
The court decision by Judge Brian Glenny sites several reasons for calling the town election invalid.
He said there was no way to ensure that the town’s efforts to broadcast the information reached every citizen who intended to vote. He also said police officers managing traffic around the fire did not know immediately that the polling hours were being extended. Those officers told people they were not be able to vote, and there is no way to know if those people found out later they could return to the polls.
“There exists a very real likelihood that citizens were disenfranchised during the May 15, 2023, town election,” Glenny wrote. “In the view of the court, a new election is the only just remedy for the unfortunate circumstances.”
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Fewer than 100 votes could swing Hull election
Candidates sought 18 seats on 13 different Hull boards and committees in Monday’s election, but it appears only one was close enough to be swung by a difference of 80 to 100 votes.
In a race for a seat on the Hull Redevelopment Authority board, Patrick Finn holds a 15-vote lead over Daniel Kernan. Another seat on the Hull Redevelopment Authority was won handily by Adrienne Paquinn.
Tied closely to the results of the race is the fate of a 12.5-acre parcel of undeveloped land between a Weir River Estuary bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The land is one of the last parcels of open beachfront in Hull and has been the subject of several failed ideas over the years.
There is agreement among residents and the redevelopment authority that the land has untapped potential, but reaching consensus on exactly what and what not to do with it has proved more challenging.
The Hull Redevelopment Authority has most recently solicited input from residents on its plan to built 117 residential units, a 65-room hotel and retail space that adds up to 181,700 square feet of new buildings. Under the current draft, 68% of the property would remain open space.
Finn has expressed stronger support for the commercial development of the property than his opponent. Kernan supports an alternative plan that would emphasize developed open space, as does Paquinn.
This is a developing story. Please check PatriotLedger.com for the latest updates.
Reach Peter Blandino at email@example.com.
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