Authorities were hunting Thursday for whoever sent suspicious letters — including some containing fentanyl — to elections offices in at least five states this week, delaying the counting of ballots in some municipal races in the latest instance of threats encountered by poll workers around the country.
Some of these letters were intercepted before they reached their destinations at election offices in key states like California, Oregon, and Washington as well as the presidential battlegrounds of Georgia and Nevada. In a statement to election authorities released Thursday, the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service said that four of the letters had contained fentanyl.
According to the statement, “law enforcement is working diligently to intercept any additional letters prior to delivery.”
Upon receiving the letter, the Pierce County auditor’s office in Tacoma, Washington, made public photographs of it, revealing that it bore a Portland, Oregon, postmark and contained the message, “End elections now.”
According to Seattle’s King County Elections Director Julie Wise, a letter “very similar” to one her office received in August containing fentanyl was sent to her office.
There was an apparent focus on Fulton County, Georgia, which is home to Atlanta and the largest voting county in a crucial presidential swing state. The government was attempting to foil the letter. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that naloxone, a medicine that may reverse the effects of an overdose, would be sent to the office as a precaution.
“This is domestic terrorism, and it needs to be condemned by anyone that holds elected office and anyone that wants to hold elective office anywhere in America,” stated Republican Representative C. A. Raffensperger.
In California, the United States Postal Service intercepted two suspicious envelopes that were destined to election centres in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
The local election office in Lane County, Oregon, where the University of Oregon is located, received suspicious mail on Wednesday and authorities began investigating. According to Devon Ashbridge, a spokeswoman for the Lane County Elections Office in Eugene, no one who came into touch with it had noticed any adverse health effects.
Because to the event, the office was closed, and the scheduled afternoon ballot pickup was postponed. Ashbridge was unwilling to elaborate.
It is unacceptable that someone tried to intimidate our election workers, Ashbridge stated.
Authorities in Washington state reported on Wednesday that four county election offices were evacuated while election workers were tallying votes from Tuesday’s election.
The King, Skagit, Spokane, and Pierce County Election Offices all got envelopes with powders in them. Field testing confirmed the presence of fentanyl in the compounds found in King and Spokane counties, according to local law enforcement. Baking soda appears to have been the culprit at least once.
Images of the letter and envelope were published by Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer. The message carried a warning regarding the vulnerability of “ballot drops” and read: “End elections today. Put an end to granting the right an authority they lack. We have taken over, and they are obsolete.
There was a pentagram, a flag for progressive ideals, and an antifascist sign on the letter. The sender’s political leanings were unclear; while the symbols were occasionally associated with leftist politics, they were also employed by conservative leaders to define and stereotype the left.
During the August primary in Washington, elections officials in King and Okanogan counties also received suspicious envelopes, with the letter addressed to King County testing positive for residues of fentanyl. The FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are still looking into the letters.
Secretary of State for Washington, Steve Hobbs, has branded the events there “acts of terrorism to threaten our elections.”
As White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton put it, “We are grateful for the election and poll workers who served this week to ensure the security of our democratic processes.” The Biden administration is aware of the probe.
An opioid called fentanyl, which can be 50 times as potent as the same amount of heroin, is being crushed into pills or mixed with other drugs, leading to an overdose catastrophe unlike any the United States has ever seen. Briefly touching fentanyl cannot induce an overdose, and experts have determined that the risk of deadly overdose from accidental exposure is negligible.
According to Jeanmarie Perrone, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for Addiction Medicine and Policy, relatively little of the powder becomes aerosolized to produce toxicity through inhalation in trials imitating exposure from opening envelopes containing powders.
She pointed out that manufacturing facility workers typically wear some sort of safety gear, and yet even accidental nose contact has not been shown to be hazardous.
When asked how it may be exposed, Perrone responded, “We have really good evidence that it wouldn’t be exposed through the skin, or through inhalation.”
A letter may have been delivered to the largest election office in Georgia, although it is unclear how authorities arrived at this conclusion. Raffensperger said the state warned all 159 of its counties of the probable danger Wednesday, but believes just Fulton County is being targeted.
The Atlanta region’s election oversight bureau has experienced yet another setback since the 2020 election.
Speaking at a news conference with Raffensperger on Thursday, Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said that election workers in the county had been under threat at least since two of them were singled out after the 2020 presidential election, with then-Republican President Donald Trump, attorney Rudy Giuliani, and others falsely alleging that election workers were stuffing ballots to aid Democrats. Joe Biden, the Democrat, just barely won the state.
The criminal accusations against Trump, Giuliani, and the other 17 defendants in the Fulton County prosecution centre on words and actions taken against election workers.
“There’s people out there who want to do harm to our workers and want to disrupt, interrupt, the flow of democracy and free, open and transparent elections, and we’re prepared for it,” said Pitts, an elected Democrat.
Pitts has predicted that the most populous county in Georgia will be the “focal point” of electoral monitoring in 2024.
“So this was a good trial run for us, I hate to say it,” he remarked.
As a result of the onslaught of harassment and threats following the 2020 election and the erroneous claims that it was rigged, many election offices around the United States have taken efforts to improve the security of their facilities and boost safety for staff.
Former Justice Department Civil Rights Division attorney and current Centre for Election Innovation & Research consultant David Becker calls it a “sad reality” that election officials continue to face threats.
“While it may be unlikely this attack would cause serious damage, it seems clearly designed to terrorise the public servants in these offices who run elections,” added Becker.