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Second ballot box fire in a week in US casts doubts over integrity of elections   

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A general view of a newly installed Ballot Drop Box for the General Election in California at the Irvine train station on October 23, 2020 in Irvine, California. (Photo by Getty Images)

A week after a blaze broke out inside a ballot drop box in the US state of California, another incident of fire in Boston has damaged dozens of ballots, casting doubts over the integrity of the election process.

The fire erupted on Sunday in a box outside the Boston Public Library in downtown Boston, damaging at least 35 of the 122 ballots inside, according to the office of Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, Newsweek reported on Monday.

Galvin and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh called the incident "a disgrace to democracy,” which came days ahead of the November 3 presidential election being contested between Republican incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The officials said torching the box was "a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime" and said "any effort to undermine or tamper" with local elections will "be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has launched an investigation into the incident which marked the second such incident in a week.

 The FBI said it was a "top priority" of the agency to "help maintain the integrity of the election process in Massachusetts by aggressively enforcing federal election laws."

"Voters in Massachusetts can feel confident in the success of the information-sharing protocols that we have established with our local, state, and federal election security partners in advance of the 2020 election," the FBI said in a statement.

Police released images of a man who appears to be grasping inflaming newspaper as he nears the ballot box, urging members of the public to help identify the individual pictured.

The Boston Police Department said in a statement that emergency responders extinguished the fire by filling the ballot box with water but it has damaged more ballots.

A similar incident happened in California on October 18 where a large number of completed ballots were reportedly destroyed in the fire, which erupted in front of Baldwin Park's public library in Los Angeles County.

“The arson of an official ballot drop box by the Baldwin Park Library in the First District has all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters and call into question the security of our elections,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement. “Tampering, or attempts to tamper, with our democracy will not be tolerated."

In recent weeks, ballot drop-off boxes have caused plenty of controversy in California, The Washington Post reported.

Unauthorized ballot boxes advertised by the California Republican Party sparked the controversy when California state officials said the boxes were illegal and misleading to voters.

Republicans claimed their boxes were legal because of a 2016 law that legalized ballot harvesting in California.

State officials “didn’t know the facts and didn’t bother to learn them before accusing us on Monday,” California GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said in a statement.

Americans have cast their ballots by mail, drop box or at in early voting locations in record numbers this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 60 million Americans have already cast their ballots.

The United States has seen its highest number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday and Saturday, offering stark of the Trump’s dismissive and erratic handling of the virus.

Surging numbers in the US -- where there have been a total of more than 8.7 million infections and 226,000 people have died -- show the nation is at a "dangerous tipping point," former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Sunday.

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