Federal authorities are investigating a fire that was set inside a ballot drop box in Boston early Sunday morning after being notified by the state’s secretary of state.
The Boston elections department notified Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin on Sunday about a fire that was set at about 4 a.m. inside a ballot drop box outside the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, according to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s office. City officials last collected ballots from the drop box at 2:29 p.m. Saturday.
The Boston Police Department is conducting an arson investigation into the fire and is working to identify a person caught on surveillance footage igniting something at the drop box. Firefighters extinguished the fire by filling the ballot box with water.
Election officials are working with authorities to take inventory of the ballots collected from the drop box from Saturday afternoon through early Sunday morning. Galvin asked the FBI to investigate the fire and referred the incident to Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
“What happened in the early hours of this morning to the ballot drop box in Copley Square is a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty and a crime,” Walsh and Galvin said in a joint statement to HuffPost. “Our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process and ensuring transparency and trust with our voters, and any effort to undermine or tamper with that process must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Lelling and FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta released a joint statement in response, saying federal authorities are now looking into the matter.
“It is a top priority of our offices to help maintain the integrity of the election process in Massachusetts by aggressively enforcing federal election laws,” the statement read.
“Voters in Massachusetts can feel confident in the success of the information sharing protocols that we have established with our local, state and federal election security partners in advance of the 2020 election,” it continued. “We remain fully committed to working with these partners to protect our communities as Americans exercise their right to vote.”
Election officials continue to inventory the drop box’s contents, but the city said that an immediate review showed about 122 ballots inside, 87 of which were legible enough to be processed.
The city will mail a new ballot to every voter whose ballot was identified as being in the drop box at the time. If those voters do not recast their ballots, the city will hand-count the ballots recovered from the box. Early voting is still available through Oct. 30, officials said. Election Day is Nov. 3.
The elections department encouraged any voter who deposited a ballot in the drop box between Saturday afternoon and early Sunday to check the status of that ballot by tracking it online or calling the department.
“We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election,” Walsh and Galvin said in their statement.
The Copley Square drop box did not appear to be damaged on the outside. It will remain available for voters to deposit ballots, city officials said.
All drop boxes in Boston are under 24-hour surveillance and emptied on a daily basis. Collected ballots are brought to the elections department to be counted on election night.
The Boston incident is believed to be the second suspected arson attack on a ballot drop box in a week.
Someone set a fire inside an official ballot collection box outside a public library in Baldwin Park, California, on Oct. 18. Officials said the individual dropped a flaming piece of newspaper into the ballot box that evening.
Los Angeles County firefighters cut open the box and doused the flames. The city’s mayor, Manuel Lozano, estimated that as many as 100 ballots were affected.
Election officials there asked local police, the FBI and the attorney general to investigate the suspected arson. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement that the incident “has all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters and call into question the security of our elections.”