The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 1, 2002


Restored ballot box ready for the election on Tuesday

The following article appeared in the November 4, 1994 issue of the Mosquito. We are reprinting it at this time as we hear more about problems with 21st-century voting machines and hanging chads.

One of the first things a new resident of Carlisle notices when he or she goes to the polls to vote is that we do things the old-fashioned way. The exercise room on the ground floor of the Corey building is not lined with banks of automatic voting machines. And instead of pulling a lever, every voter is directed to a row of booths where he marks his ballot with a pencil. Only when he has filled out the ballot and been checked off the voters list can he finally proceed to the ballot box.

Quartered-oak ballot box

Phyllis Towle served as the "town crank" in 1984.

It's the old quartered-oak ballot box, acquired in 1930 by the town of Carlisle for $70, that is the source of pride for the election officials and the voters who cast their ballots at election time. When long-time Carlisle resident Phyllis Towle died several years ago, it was her role as "the town crank" on election day that people most often remembered. Even now voters ask the election official cranking the ballot box, "Are you the new town crank?" And first-time voters, amazed that they are actually voting with paper and pencil, have been heard to thank "the crank" as their ballot is cranked in and registered with the ring of a bell.

During the 1992 presidential election, town clerk Sarah Andreassen became concerned about the condition of the ballot box when the machine started to jam. "I knew the box was old. It made me nervous to have it jamming and ripping the ballots, especially when we had no back-up box to take its place," reports Andreassen. To solve this problem, in March of 1994 Andreassen bid on a ballot box in Worcester and for $50 Carlisle acquired a second wooden ballot box, circa 1950, made of plywood with a mechanism almost exactly identical to the first ballot box. In fact, some of the parts are interchangeable. She had hoped to find another old box, but soon realized that antique dealers were outbidding her every time.

Two boxes
Voting day 1978. (from photo file of Ellen Huber)

Now with two boxes with almost identical mechanisms, Andreassen approached clockmaker Richard Ketchen of Brook Street to see if he could fix the Carlisle ballot box. In July, Ketchen went to work on it. Using parts from the Worcester box, Ketchen overhauled and fine-tuned the machine. He replaced the wooden drive rollers with another set from the new machine; the ink roller coil spring was retensioned, as were the leaf springs for the top roller; all the bearing pivots were oiled as per instructions found inside the case top; the top door restraint chain was repaired; the broken deflector strip was silver- soldered, polished and lacquered; the anti-reverse flaps were sharpened; the wire lever was adjusted so as not to jam the anti-reverse flaps; and many pieces of the mechanism were removed to check for wear and cleaned in the ultrasonic cleaner before being reassembled.

The Worcester box

Once the Carlisle box had been restored, Ketchen turned his attention to the new Worcester box. Besides general repairs and tune-up, parts from the old box that had been replaced were repaired and put into the Worcester box and a new print strip reading "Town of Carlisle" was installed to replace "City of Worcester." The print used in this box to validate the ballots was designed to run up and down instead of horizontally as it does in the old box. (In case the town is divided into precincts in the future, this will insure that it is clear which ballots come from which ballot box.)

Ketchen worked four or five hours on each box. He completed his restoration project by the middle of August, in plenty of time for the Massachusetts Primary Election and Town Election on September 20 when two ballot boxes were needed. "It was great fun working on those boxes," says Ketchen. "Being a clock maker, it fit in with the type of work I do — working on small complicated mechanisms." Ketchen also took great pleasure in casting his votes in the September elections, placing his ballots in the very boxes he had worked on over the summer.

Looking ahead now to this years Election Day on Tuesday, November 5th, Andreassen has this advice for the voters of Carlisle: "The ballot is cumbersome, almost a yard long. I suggest reading Information for Voters and using the 'Voter Checklist' on the back which can be torn out and taken to the polls. Otherwise, the voter will have to spend quite some time in the voting booth, figuring out how to vote on the nine ballot questions."

Luckily, the old Carlisle ballot box has been overhauled and fine-tuned. Thanks to Richard Ketchen's craftsmanship there should be no jamming and ripping of ballots this time, even if the ballots are "almost a yard long."

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito