Election offices in five states are receiving envelopes containing fentanyl or other substances

(Karen Ducey/Associated Press)

Election offices in five states are receiving envelopes containing fentanyl or other substances

Election 2024


November 9, 2023

Authorities were hunting Thursday for whoever sent suspicious letters laced with fentanyl to election offices in at least five states this week, delaying the counting of ballots in some local races in the latest case of threats facing election workers across the country to have.

The letters were sent to election offices in the presidential battlegrounds of Georgia and Nevada, as well as California, Oregon and Washington, and some were intercepted before they arrived. Four of the letters contained fentanyl, the FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service said in a statement to election officials on Thursday.

Police are making every effort to intercept any additional letters before they are delivered, the statement said.

The Pierce County Auditor’s Office in Tacoma, Washington, released images of the letter it received, showing it was postmarked in Portland, Oregon, and read in part: End the election now.

In Seattle, King County Elections Director Julie Wise said the letter appeared to be the same as one her office received and was very similar to the letter King County received during the August primary, which also contained fentanyl.

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One of the offices that appeared to be targeted was Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta and is the largest voting precinct in one of the country’s key presidential swing states.

It is also where state charges were filed against former President Trump in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

Authorities were busy intercepting the letter. Meanwhile, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said officials were sending the overdose-reversing drug naloxone to the office as a precaution.

This is domestic terrorism, and it must be condemned by anyone who holds elected office and anyone who seeks elective office anywhere in America, said Raffensperger, a Republican.

In California, the United States Postal Service intercepted two suspicious envelopes headed to election facilities in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Authorities in Lane County, Oregon, which includes the University of Oregon, investigated a piece of mail that arrived at the local elections office on Wednesday. No one who came into contact with it had experienced any adverse health effects, said Devon Ashbridge, spokesperson for the Lane County Elections Office in Eugene.

The incident prompted officials to close the office and the afternoon ballot collection was postponed. Ashbridge declined to provide further details.

Someone tried to terrorize our election staff, and that’s not okay, Ashbridge said.

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On Wednesday, authorities in Washington state said four election offices in the county had to be evacuated as election workers were processing ballots for Tuesday’s election, delaying vote counting.

Election offices in King, Skagit, Spokane and Pierce counties received envelopes containing powders. Local law enforcement officials said the substances field-tested positive for fentanyl in King and Spokane counties. In at least one other case, the substance was baking soda.

Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer released images of the envelope and letter her office received. The letter contained a warning about the vulnerability of ballots and read: End the election now. Stop giving the right power they don’t have. We are now in charge and that is no longer necessary.

The letter included an anti-fascist symbol, an LGBTQ+ ‘progress’ Pride flag and a pentagram. While the symbols are sometimes associated with left-wing politics, they have also been used by conservative figures to label and stereotype the left, and the sender’s political affiliations were unclear.

Election offices in Washington’s two counties, King and Okanogan, also received suspicious envelopes while processing ballots during the August primary, and the letter sent to King County tested positive for traces of fentanyl. These letters are still under investigation by the US Postal Inspection Service and the FBI.

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs called the incidents in his state terrorist acts aimed at threatening our elections.

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White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said the Biden administration was aware of the investigation. “We are grateful for the election and poll workers who helped ensure the security of our democratic processes this week,” she said.

Fentanyl, an opioid that can be 50 times as powerful as the same amount of heroin, is causing an overdose crisis more deadly than anything the U.S. has ever seen because it is pressed into pills or mixed with other drugs. Briefly touching fentanyl cannot cause an overdose, and researchers have found that the risk of a fatal overdose from accidental exposure is low.

Jeanmarie Perrone, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said studies simulating exposure by opening envelopes containing powders showed that very little, if any, powder is aerosolized and causes toxicity by inhalation.

She noted that factory workers in manufacturing facilities often wear some level of protective equipment, but that even incidental nasal exposure does not cause toxicity in these workers.

We have very good evidence that it would not be exposed through the skin or by inhalation, Perrone said.

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It was not immediately clear how authorities suspected a letter might have been sent to Georgia’s largest elections office. Raffensperger said the state warned all 159 counties of the possible threat on Wednesday, but believes only Fulton County is being targeted.

It’s the latest disruption since the 2020 election for the office that oversees voting in and around Atlanta.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said Thursday at a news conference with Raffensperger that the county’s election workers have been threatened since at least two of them were picked after the 2020 presidential election, when Trump, then president, attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and others falsely claimed that election workers were stuffing ballots to help Democrats. Democrat Joe Biden narrowly won the state.

Part of the prosecution in Fulton County, which has charged Trump, Giuliani and 17 others, includes criminal charges targeting statements and actions against election workers.

There are people who want to harm our workers and disrupt and interrupt the flow of democracy and free, open and transparent elections, and who were prepared to do so, said Pitts, an elected Democrat.

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Pitts said he believes Georgia’s most populous county will be the focus of election scrutiny in 2024.

“So this was a good trial run for us, I hate to say it,” he said.

Many election offices across the United States have taken steps to enhance the security of their buildings and increase employee protections amid a flood of intimidation and threats following the 2020 election and false claims that it was rigged.

It’s a sad reality that election officials continue to face threats, said David Becker, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division who works with election officials through the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research.

While this attack may be unlikely to cause serious damage, it appears clearly intended to terrorize the officials in these offices organizing the elections, Becker said.

Komenda reported from Tacoma and Johnson from Seattle. Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta, Ali Swenson in New York, Josh Boak in Chicago, Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, Adam Beam in Sacramento and Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.


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