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Southern California Ballot Box Fire Investigated as Possible Arson

Los Angeles County firefighters extinguished a fire inside an official ballot drop box Sunday night, an incident being investigated as arson.

(CN) — Los Angeles County firefighters extinguished a fire inside an official ballot drop box Sunday night, an incident being investigated as arson.

The Baldwin Park Police Department removed damaged ballots from the box and sent them to LA County Registrar’s Office. Capt. Ron Haralson with the LA County Fire Department said arson investigators were at the scene outside the Baldwin Park Library.

Firefighters pushed the nozzle of a firehose into the large metal drop box to douse the fire before they cut the box open to retrieve the ballots. La Puente resident George Silva recorded the firefighters at work and showed them fishing out stacks of paper ballots after they cut it open.

ABC affiliate Eyewitness News 7 reported firefighters said burning newspaper was stuffed inside the drop box, but fire officials had not verified that as of press time.

LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents the district, in a statement said the incident “has all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters and call into question the security of our elections.”

Solis said ballots were last picked up at the box on Saturday morning.

Election officials have retrieved ballots that were in the drop box and will determine how to notify those voters.

“The residents, or those who decide to use this particular box, they voted already, so we need to reach out to them," Baldwin Park Mayor Manuel Lozano told CBS affiliate KCBS.

The LA County Registrar’s Office has requested an investigation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the California Attorney General’s Office and are searching surveillance footage from the area to determine the cause of the fire.

“Tampering with vote by mail drop boxes and ballots is serious criminal offense and we will vigorously seek the prosecution of individuals who engage in such behavior,” LA County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan said in a statement.

The California Attorney General's office said it is aware of the situation and an FBI spokesperson said the agency is assisting Baldwin Park in its investigation. 

The possible arson incident comes just days after a major fiasco in California where unofficial drop boxes were placed across the state by the California GOP.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent cease and desist letters to Republican chairs across the state, threatening legal action if the ballot boxes were not removed, as the boxes were set up without notification to local election officials.

GOP officials said they were complying with state laws that allowed ballot harvesting. The unofficial boxes were reported in LA, Fresno and Orange counties.

Padilla said the unofficial drop boxes had not been approved by county officials and lacked the proper security measures to safety store the boxes.

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