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Boston ballot paper burned, officials say ‘scandal against democracy’

The fire was placed around noon. 4 in the Copley Square drop box, according to Galvin’s office. Boston Police on Sunday released two photos of a man they say they are trying to identify as part of the investigation. In a picture, it appears that a man is holding something with a bright flame as he approaches the ballot paper.

In a joint statement, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Galvin called the fire nine days before election day “a disgrace to democracy, a respect for the electorate that fulfills their civic duty and a crime.”


“Our primary priority is to maintain the integrity of our electoral process and ensure the transparency and trust of our constituents, and any effort to undermine or manipulate this process must be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible by law,” the statement said. “We urge voters not to be intimidated by this bad deed and to remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election.”

Galvin said in a statement left with a Globe reporter that the FBI had launched a probe.

“This was a deliberate arson attack on a ballot paper in a federal election,” the Brighton Democrat said. “This was obviously a violent act.”

Lelling’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston office also did not return an email.

There were 122 ballots inside the box when officials emptied that Sunday morning, 87 of which were legible and treatable. Galvin said in a phone interview that the remaining 35 could probably be read, meaning they could possibly be rescued, but that five to ten were “severely damaged” and unreadable. The box had last been emptied by the Boston Constituency just before noon. 14.30 Saturday.

Officials are urging voters who used the box late on Saturday or early Sunday to either follow their vote online or contact the Boston Constituency.

Any affected voter will have a replacement vote sent to them by the City of Boston and will have the option to cast the new ballot or vote in person, Galvin’s office said. If an affected voter does not cast a new ballot, their original ballot shall be counted as far as possible.

The dropbox outside the Copley Square library did not suffer “physical external damage,” according to city officials, who say it is still available for voters to deposit their finished ballot. Boston police said when they arrived early Sunday that smoke was coming out of the ballot and that it “appeared to be on fire.”

Firefighters eventually extinguished it by filling the ballot with water, police said. Galvin said the plastic liner inside the box had melted from the heat.

Walsh’s office said each of the city’s 17 boxes is under 24-hour surveillance and emptied daily.

Galvin is pushing local officials, including in Boston, to better protect boxes, including emptying them more than once a day. He said he was particularly concerned about the location of Boston’s boxes, most of which are located outside the city library’s branches.

He also asked officials around the state to consider keeping boxes inside municipal buildings or the police station lobby, though he acknowledged that many, if not most, city and town buildings are not open 24/7. A spokeswoman for Galvin said his office has asked local election officials to contact the Secretary of State’s constituency about the potential for funding to pay for any increased security, including for the police.

“It’s better to be a disadvantage than to have ballot papers damaged or destroyed,” Galvin said. “This is a very intense part of the electoral process.”

Boston City Councilman Ed Flynn, whose district includes Copley Square, said Sunday that he hopes the city can “implement additional security measures” at the city’s drop box and polling stations.

“We must do what we can to ensure the integrity of our electoral process,” he said in a statement. in our democratic process. ”

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll wrote on Twitter Sunday that city officials who used chemical fire retardants in their ballots “to ensure ballot papers do not go up in flames.”

“[It’s] sad that we have to take these measures, ”Driscoll wrote.

In a telephone interview, Driscoll said clerk Ilene Simons got the idea after contacting election officials in King County, Wash., Where residents had voted with the post before the pandemic.

Salem eventually purchased and installed in each of its five ballots two Sterno-like fire extinguishers, which are triggered by direct contact with a flame and are typically used to extinguish fireplaces. Two-packs are listed for about $ 41 apiece at Home Depot. Salem also installed all but one of its ballots outside the city’s fire stations.

“Everyone is trying to keep all the vandalism proof,” Driscoll said.

Galvin’s office said it was the first report of apparent intentional damage to a drop box in Massachusetts. California officials said this week that they were investigating an arson by a ballot paper outside a public library in Baldwin Park, where someone threw a flaming piece of newspaper into a box Sunday night.

The event in Massachusetts comes as millions have already sought to vote ahead of the Nov. 3 election. As of Sunday, more than 1.6 million people had returned ballots, of which 1,031,264 had done so per. Post, according to Galvin’s office.

In all, more than 2.2 million have early applied to vote by mail or have voted in the state’s early voting period, which runs until Friday.

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.

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