An official ballot collecting box in Baldwin Park, California was set on fire Sunday evening, destroying the ballots that had already been dropped inside.
Authorities have not yet confirmed the number of ballots that were contained within the box when the fire began, though preliminary estimates have been upwards of 100 ballots. Although officials have not yet named a suspect in the incident, they are investigating the matter as arson.
Firefighters in Baldwin Park said they discovered torched newspaper inside the box, saying someone put the flaming paper inside, causing the fire and destruction of ballots. A witness described the burning ballot box as a chimney with billowing smoke to ABC 7 in Los Angeles.
The box had to be cut open with a chainsaw as firefighters worked to extinguish the fire, according to CBS Los Angeles. It is a felony under California law to tamper with a ballot collection box. There is no word yet from authorities about whether any ballots were salvaged or whether the people who cast them could be tracked to issue a replacement ballot.
Authorities are investigating a fire which damaged an official ballot drop box Sunday night in Baldwin Park, damaging countless ballots in the process. Firefighters had to use a chainsaw to cut the box open and remove stacks of burned ballots. https://t.co/8NxjAeVVnW pic.twitter.com/DsUCNmLQVH— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) October 19, 2020
The destruction of the ballot box in Baldwin Park, a Democrat stronghold in Los Angeles County, comes amid rising tensions over ballot collection and voting by mail in California and in other places across the country. Following sweeping election laws passed after the 2016 election, ballot collection in California is allowable via highly controversial ballot harvesting methods, a matter that Democrats and Republicans have been feuding over throughout the 2020 election cycle.
Recently, the California GOP scored a victory when community ballot collecting boxes they set up were deemed allowable after national outrage by Democrats and left-wing media. The Democrats had set up similar collection boxes, all within the law passed by the state assembly ushering in unprecedented methods of ballot harvesting. After condemning the GOP for using their own collection boxes, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra admitted they were in the right to continue doing so under California law.
Conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks issued a statement on Tuesday warning that the fire in Baldwin Park is just the latest example of the danger of not voting in person, despite what public messaging has been.
"Democrats told Americans all summer that it’s safe to vote by mail and that the ballot box is especially secure. But now, it’s clear that voters risk disenfranchisement thanks to elected officials’ push for widespread voting by mail. This election cycle, no vote is safe from the risks of malfeasance associated with widespread voting by mail. This incident in California is a reminder that the best way to ensure that your vote is counted is to vote in person."
With just two weeks left until Election Day, remote voting, either through ballot harvesting, voting by mail, or dropping ballots in a box, is estimated to reach record levels as millions have already cast their vote. Concerns about the integrity of ballots cast outside of a polling place has kept voices on both sides of the political aisle on edge.