After a series of concerning tampering with drop boxes all over the U.S., authorities are now investigating a fire in an official ballot drop box located in Baldwin Park, CA just west of Los Angeles. Stacks of burned ballots, an estimated 200 in total, were removed after the Los Angeles County Fire Department arrived on the scene to extinguish the fire. Federal investigators suspect that it was arson and local officials are considering it an act of voter suppression.
The fire was discovered on Sunday around 8:00 p.m. Witnesses called the fire department after noticing heavy smoke billowing from the drop box. At present, federal investigators are still not sure exactly how the fire started. “This has all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters and call into question the security of our elections,” LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, told CBS Los Angeles.
On Monday, fellow LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn said voters who dropped off their ballots at the box were already being sent new ballots, reports CBS News. “It’s my understanding that it was malicious. It wasn’t just a kid maybe throwing a match in a box,” said Hahn. “It was some serious vandalism cutting the box, they were determined to really destroy ballots.”
In the state of California, there are criminal and civil penalties for tampering with the voting system. According to the California Secretary of State website, criminal charges are considered a felony and are punishable by up to four years in prison. Additionally, civil charges may be brought by local elections officials that can include fines up to $50,000 for each act of tampering committed.
But this isn't the first tampering act in recent weeks. As Election Day draws near, numerous instances of violence and misleading voters have been reported. Last week, a security guard assigned to protect a ballot drop box in Baltimore was shot. According to police, he was wounded but none of his injuries are fatal.
Officials in California are also still investigating as many as 50 unauthorized ballot boxes located across Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties placed by the state’s Republican party. Some were falsely labeled “official” drop boxes. Even though California’s Secretary of State and Attorney General ordered that the boxes be taken down claiming they intentionally misled voters, local party members argue that they have broken no laws and, therefore, will not take them down.
It is unclear if all 200 ballots found in the drop box were destroyed, but the investigation is ongoing. Refinery29 reached out to the Los Angeles County Fire Department for more information.