KEY POINTS

  • Worldy Armand, a 39-year-old Boston resident, was charged in connection with the fire
  • The incident comes amid ongoing early voting across several U.S. states
  • Residents whose votes were affected will be sent replacement ballots

 

The Boston Elections Department officials are urging residents at Copley Square to check their vote status online after a man was charged with setting a ballot drop box on fire which damaged dozens of ballots inside.

Worldy Armand, a 39-year-old Boston resident, was arrested Sunday for allegedly setting the ballot drop box outside the Boston Public Library in Back Bay neighborhood on fire. The box contained more than 120 ballots of which 35 were damaged.

Boston police responded to the area at around 4.10 a.m. ET Sunday, where firefighters were already tending to smoke wafting out of the box. The firefighters managed to put out the flames by filling the box with water, NBC Boston reported.

The Boston Elections Department said there were a total of 122 ballots inside the box when it was emptied Sunday morning, and 87 of them were able to be processed. Among the 35 damaged ballots, 10 were illegible, Secretary of State William Gavin told ABC News on Monday. He urged communities to lock their ballot boxes on the night of Halloween on Saturday.

An FBI investigation was launched into what Gavin said appeared to be a deliberate attack and Armand was charged with willful and malicious burning Monday. It was not known if he was targeting any particular party.

Boston Elections Department asked residents who used the drop box between 2.30 p.m. Saturday and 4 a.m. Sunday to check whether their ballots were processed using the website www.TrackMyBallotMA.com. The voters who can’t confirm their ballot status were asked to contact the department immediately so that a replacement ballot can be mailed to them. In case the voters don’t submit a new ballot, "their original ballot will be hand-counted to the extent possible," WHDH-TV reported, citing Gavin’s office.

The incident comes amid ongoing early voting across several U.S. states before the presidential elections begin Nov. 3. Gavin has directed election officials in Boston to increase security around ballot boxes by deploying box guards and utilizing video surveillance. He also asked them to empty the boxes frequently.

Gavin and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the incident a "disgrace to democracy" in a joint statement, NBC Boston reported. "What happened in the 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,"  the publication quoted them as saying.

"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."

In another such incident which happened in California a week ago, dozens of ballots were damaged as a ballot drop box in Baldwin Park caught fire. Firefighters scrambled to extinguish the flames in order to save the ballots after witnesses alerted them about smoke coming out from the box. Nearly 60-100 ballots were destroyed as a result of the fire and the case was being treated as a possible arson investigation, CBS Los Angeles reported.

A voter drops a ballot for the 2020 US elections into an official drop box in Norwalk, California A voter drops a ballot for the 2020 US elections into an official drop box in Norwalk, California Photo: AFP / Frederic J. BROWN