Updated November 9, 2023 - 4:29 pm
Suspicious letters were mailed to elections offices in at least five states — Nevada, California, Georgia, Oregon and Washington — and in four cases the letters contained fentanyl, the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service reported in a statement to elections officials Thursday.
Fentanyl, an opioid that can be 50 times as powerful as the same amount of heroin, is driving an overdose crisis deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen as it is pressed into pills or mixed into other drugs. Briefly touching fentanyl cannot cause an overdose, and researchers have found that the risk of fatal overdose from accidental exposure is low.
“Law enforcement is working diligently to intercept any additional letters before they are delivered,” the statement said.
The letters were sent to ballot counting centers in several states, according to an FBI spokesperson in Las Vegas.
“The FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, responded to multiple incidents involving suspicious letters sent to ballot counting centers in several states,” Sandy Breault of the Las Vegas Field Office stated in an an email. “As these are ongoing matters, we do not have any further comment, but the public can be assured that law enforcement will continue to keep the public’s safety as its top priority. The FBI would also like to remind everyone to exercise care in handling mail, especially from unrecognized senders. If you see something suspicious, please contact law enforcement immediately.”
Several Nevada agencies are investigating.
Postmarked at Portland
The Pierce County auditor’s office in Tacoma, Washington, released images of the letter it received, showing it had been postmarked in Portland, Oregon, and read in part: “End elections now.”
In Seattle, King County Elections Director Julie Wise said that letter appeared to be the same one her office got — and that it was “very similar” to one King County received during the August primary, which also contained fentanyl.
Among the offices that appeared to be targeted was Fulton County in Georgia, which includes Atlanta and is the largest voting jurisdiction in one of the nation’s most important presidential swing states. Authorities were working to intercept the letter. In the meantime, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said officials were sending the overdose-reversal drug naloxone 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,” said Raffensperger, a Republican.
In California, the United States Postal Service intercepted two suspicious envelopes that were headed to election facilities in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Authorities in Lane County, Oregon, which includes the University of Oregon, were investigating a piece of mail that arrived at the local election office Wednesday. No one who came in contact with it had experienced any negative health effects, said Devon Ashbridge, spokeswoman for the Lane County Elections Office in Eugene.
The incident prompted officials to close the office and delayed an afternoon pickup of ballots. Ashbridge declined to provide further details.
“Someone attempted to terrorize our elections staff, and that’s not OK,” Ashbridge said.
Election offices evacuated
On Wednesday, authorities in Washington state said four county election offices had to be evacuated as election workers were processing ballots cast in 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 in King and Spokane counties field-tested positive for fentanyl. 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 “ballot drops” and read: “End elections now. Stop giving power to the right that they don’t have. We are in charge now and there is no more need for them.”
The letter featured an antifascist symbol, a progress pride flag and a pentagram. While the symbols have sometimes been associated with leftist politics, they also have been used by conservative figures to label and stereotype the left, and the sender’s political leanings were unclear.
Elections offices in two Washington 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. Those letters remain under investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and FBI.
Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs called the incidents in his state “acts of terrorism to threaten our elections.”
White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said the Biden administration was aware of the investigation: “We are grateful for the election and poll workers who served this week to ensure the security of our democratic processes.”
“We are aware of the reports of suspicious letters addressed to election offices in multiple states, including Nevada, and we are in communication and coordinating with federal, state and local agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Service, the Nevada Department of Public Safety and the Office of the Governor,” the Nevada Secretary of State’s office said. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further comment at this time.”
Contact Marvin Clemons at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.