BALDWIN PARK (CBSLA) – Authorities are investigating a fire that broke out in an official ballot drop box Sunday night in Baldwin Park, damaging several ballots in the process.
The box, located outside the Baldwin Park Library in the 4100 block of Baldwin Park Boulevard, was discovered on fire at around 8 p.m., according to Baldwin Park police.
Los Angeles County Fire Department crews arrived on scene and extinguished the blaze.
“I noticed the smoke coming out of the ballot box, it was pretty heavy,” witness George Silva said.
Firefighters had to install a hose into the slot of the box to put the fire out. They then had to use a chainsaw to cut the box open and remove stacks of burned ballots.
It’s unclear exactly how the fire was sparked. Local leaders and now federal investigators are looking into the incident for suspected arson.
“(This) has all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters and call into question the security of our elections,” L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
There were over 200 ballots reportedly involved in the incident — up from an initial estimate of between 60 to 100, according to Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano.
“The residents, or those who decide to use this particular box, they voted already, so we need to reach out to them,” Lozano said.
L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said later Monday that all the ballots have been accounted for and those voters impacted by the fire are being sent new ballots to fill out.
“It’s unbelievable to me that during this very important election cycle that someone would stoop that low to target an official drop box where people have been placing their ballots and set it to fire,” Hahn said. “It’s my understanding that it was malicious it wasn’t just a kid maybe throwing a match in a box. It was some serious vandalism cutting the box, they were determined to really destroy ballots.”
This comes amid controversy over several unauthorized ballot drop boxes which have popped up across L.A., Ventura and Orange counties over the past few weeks. The California Republican Party has admitted to installing some of them, arguing that doing so does not violate the law. State and local officials are investigating.
Some of the boxes were labeled as “official” drop boxes even though they are not.
Monday is the final day to register to vote in California. The state has a system voters can use to track their ballots and find out when they are received and counted. To sign up, click here.