‘A disgrace to democracy’: Dozens of ballots destroyed in suspected arson of a Boston drop box

“What happened early hours of this morning to the ballot dropbox in Copley Square is a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime,” said a joint statement from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) and Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin (D). “We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act, and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election.”

The Boston incident began around 4 a.m. Sunday, police said, when firefighters responded to reports of smoke billowing out of a drop box near Copley Square.

After firefighters extinguished the blaze, elections officials examined the box. They found about 122 ballots inside and determined that 35 of them were too illegible from the damage to process, the Boston Election Department said.

Police later reviewed surveillance footage and released still images of a suspect seen approaching the box with what appeared to be a flaming object in his hand. The FBI is also probing the fire, noting in a statement that “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.”

Boston election officials are now asking anyone who used the box after around 2:30 p.m. Saturday to contact them to get a new ballot. The Copley Square box is also undamaged and still open for ballot drops, the Boston Election Department said, noting that all boxes are “under 24-hour surveillance and emptied on a daily basis.”

With the pandemic still raging throughout the country, drop boxes have taken on an outsized role in the presidential contest. Election officials nationwide have pitched them as a safe alternative to polling places and a more reliable means of delivery than the U.S. Postal Service, which has been hamstrung by delays under the controversial policies of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

But the Trump campaign has sued over their use, and critics have argued that they will confuse voters or not be safe enough from tampering. In California, meanwhile, state officials are locked in a legal battle with Republicans over dozens of unofficial ballot drop boxes set up at gun shops, churches and elsewhere.

In Boston, authorities urged voters not to let the suspected arson damage their trust in the voting system.

“Our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process and ensuring transparency and trust with our voters,” Walsh and Galvin said in their joint statement.

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