A 39-year-old Boston man charged with setting a ballot box in Copley Square on fire early Sunday is emotionally disturbed and does not appear to be “plotting against our democracy,” Suffolk County’s top prosecutor said.
Worldy Armand appeared Monday in Boston Municipal Court on a charge of willful and malicious burning, according to Boston police and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. Judge Mark H. Summerville ordered him held without bail, and Armand is due back in court Friday for a detention hearing, according to court records.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Sunday that he had contacted US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office and that the FBI was also investigating what Galvin and Mayor Martin J. Walsh called a “disgrace to democracy.” Federal officials later said they were investigating the “attempted ballot box arson.”
Rachael Rollins, Suffolk County’s district attorney, stressed that while she’s “seen articles saying this is a threat to our democracy," she said the incident did not appear to be tied to a larger effort to undermine voting in Massachusetts. (Rollins herself had earlier described the act as a “crime against democracy” in a Monday tweet.)
“I do not believe that this individual is plotting against our democracy,” Rollins told reporters in Roxbury, according to audio provided by her office. “I think he is emotionally disturbed, is what I am told."
Rollins said her office has also been in contact with federal authorities, but indicated she doesn’t believe the incident would rise to the level of a federal crime.
“If this were somebody with the facts maybe being a little bit different, there could potentially be a federal charge. We believe that this was the act of an individual that we have jurisdiction over,” Rollins said.
Efforts to reach an attorney listed for Armand were not immediately successful Monday.
Boston police said in a press release that officers were patrolling Copley Square at 10:50 p.m., on Sunday when they saw a man who matched the description of a suspect who had set a ballot box on fire outside the Boston Public Library in what officials say was an apparently deliberate act.
Armand had an active warrant out of Ipswich District Court for a charge of receiving stolen property, Boston police said. Officers took him into custody and later charged him with burning the ballot box, according to police.
The fire was set around 4 a.m. in the Copley Square drop box, according to Galvin’s office. Boston police on Sunday released two images of a man they said they were trying to identify as part of the investigation. In one image, a man appears to be holding something with a bright flame as he approaches the ballot box.
The drop box outside the Copley Square library did not suffer “physical outer damage,” according to city officials, who say it is still available for voters to deposit their completed ballots. Boston police said when they arrived early Sunday, smoke was coming out of the ballot box and that it “appeared to be on fire.”
Fire crews eventually extinguished it by filling the ballot box with water, police said. Rollins said Monday that she thinks “putting water into that box to stop the fire has possibly destroyed some of those ballots.”
There were 122 ballots inside the box when officials emptied it Sunday morning, 87 of which were legible and able to be processed. Galvin said in a phone interview Sunday that of the remaining 35, most “probably could be read,” meaning they could possibly be saved, but that five to 10 were “badly damaged” and unreadable. The box had last been emptied by the Boston Elections Department just before 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Officials are urging voters who used the box late Saturday or early Sunday to either track their ballot online or contact the Boston Elections Department.
Galvin on Sunday directed local election officials around the state to increase security of their drop boxes, including employing police to monitor them, using video surveillance, and emptying the boxes frequently ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
His office sent another directive Monday, telling local officials that if they’re unable to have “personal security” watching drop boxes on Halloween night, they should empty unattended boxes by 5 p.m. that night and keep them locked until the following morning.