A Boston man faced a judge Monday for allegedly setting fire to a ballot box in Copley Square over the weekend, police said.
Boston police said they arrested Worldy Armand, 39, Sunday at around 10:50 p.m. and said he was the suspect in the incident, which resulted in 35 ballots being damaged -- some of which cannot be used. The incident comes just days before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Police said Armand has an active warrant for his arrest out of Ipswich District Court for receiving stolen property.
Suffolk Country District Attorney Rachael Rollins does not believe Armand was targeting any candidate.
"We believe this is an emotionally disturbed individual," she said Monday.
In a statement, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh thanked police and others for their "swift action" and said the city was taking action to make sure all votes would be counted.
“From our election workers who are working hard to trace every legible ballot in that dropbox, to our firefighters who quickly responded to the fire, and our police officers who launched an immediate investigation, voters can be assured that our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process," he said. "We remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election, and maintaining transparency and trust with voters.”
The incident triggered an FBI investigation after Secretary of State William Galvin alerted them to what he said appeared to be a deliberate attack. It has also sparked calls for increased security amid ongoing early voting in Massachusetts.
Boston police say they responded to the area of 700 Boylston St. around 4:10 a.m. Sunday, The city's fire department was already on scene tending to smoke coming from the early voting ballot box outside of the Boston Public Library.
While the ballot box appeared to be on fire, firefighters were unable to determine if the fire was burning inside of the box, police said. Crews extinguished the fire by filling the ballot box with water.
The drop box had last been emptied by the Boston Elections Department at 2:29 p.m. on Saturday, the department said. According to their inventory, there were 122 ballots inside the drop box when it was emptied Sunday morning, 87 of which were legible and able to be processed.
Thirty-five ballots were damaged, and up to 10 of those cannot be counted, according to Galvin and Walsh, who urged people who used the box Saturday and early Sunday to contact them to get replacement ballots.
“What happened in the early hours of this morning to the ballot dropbox in Copley Square is a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime," Galvin and and Boston Mayor Walsh said in a statement. "Our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process and ensuring transparency and trust with our voters, and any effort to undermine or tamper with that process must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The ballot drop box at Copley Square did not suffer physical outer damage and continues to be available for voters to deposit their completed ballots.
Monday afternoon, charred mail was found inside a mailbox nearby. Authorities did not say if the incidents were related, but the mailbox had last been emptied around 4 p.m. Saturday.
Boston Police said an arson investigation is underway and released surveillance images of a person near the ballot box at that time, urging the public to help identify the individual.
The FBI said in a statement announcing their investigation that "it is a top priority of our offices to help maintain the integrity of the election process in Massachusetts by aggressively enforcing federal election laws."
"We’re going to insist on prosecuting whoever did this and want them to know they’re going to be apprehended and go to jail," Galvin added.
Voters can go online to see whether their ballot was processed. Those who used that dropbox between Saturday afternoon and 4 a.m. Sunday and can't confirm the status of their ballot online should contact the Boston Elections Department immediately, officials said.
Voters whose ballots were affected can either vote in person or by a replacement ballot that will be mailed to them, officials said. If those voters don't submit a new ballot, "their original ballot will be hand-counted to the extent possible,'' Galvin's office said.
The incident is believed to be isolated but it has communities around the state increasing security around their ballot boxes.
"This is the most important election of certainly my lifetime and many of yours as well. Our votes needed to be counted," Rollins said.
Anyone who used the Copley Square drop box between 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and 4 a.m. on Sunday is urged to contact the Boston Elections Department immediately at 617-635-2211. They recommended using the website www.TrackMyBallotMA.com to see if your ballot was accepted.
Galvin has directed all local election officials around the commonwealth to increase security of drop boxes by employing drop box guards, utilizing video surveillance, and emptying drop boxes frequently.
“We had expressed previously our concern about drop boxes being in secure locations, I've intensified that this afternoon by issuing this directive: if it’s necessary to have police officers in front of drop boxes if they cannot be contained inside a building,” Galvin said.
"We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act, and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election,” Walsh and Galvin said.
With federal authorities investigating the incident, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta said in a joint statement Sunday that "it is a top priority of our offices to help maintain the integrity of the election process in Massachusetts by aggressively enforcing federal election laws."
In their statement, Lelling and Bonavolonta said Massachusetts voters can feel confident in the success of the information sharing protocols that they have established in advance of the 2020 election.
"We remain fully committed to working with these partners to protect our communities as Americans exercise their right to vote," they wrote.
More on Early Voting in Massachusetts
Early voting began last Saturday in Massachusetts, and more than 2 million residents have already cast their ballots in person or by mail.
According to the Secretary of State's office, 2,209,350 voters have applied to vote by mail or voted early. As of 4 p.m. Sunday, 2,197,310 ballots had been provided and 1,600,525 ballots have been returned. That accounts for over 34% of the registered voters in the state.
In Boston alone, more than 166,000 people applied to vote by mail or voted early. Over 100,500 had returned their ballots as of Sunday.
The Boston Fire Department is asking anyone with information related to this ballot box arson investigation to contact them at 617-343-3324.
The Associated Press contributed to this report