By RANDY BRACHT | THE CENTER SQUARE
Elections offices in four Washington counties were closed as a precaution Wednesday after they received envelopes containing unknown powdery substances, reported the Secretary of State’s Office.
The suspicious envelopes were received in King, Pierce, Skagit and Spokane counties. The discoveries disrupted ballot counting by workers following Tuesday’s general election in Washington.
In Spokane, police said the substance tested positive as fentanyl, a potentially deadly synthetic opioid. The Seattle Times reported that an envelope containing fentanyl had been sent to the King County elections office.
Local, state, and federal authorities are investigating the incidents.
Calling them “acts of terrorism,” Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said the incidents illustrate the need to take seriously the threats that elections workers face in administering Washington’s democratic process.
“The safety of staff and observers is paramount as elections workers across the state open envelopes and count each voter’s ballot,” said Hobbs. “These incidents underscore the critical need for stronger protections for all election workers. Democracy rests upon free and fair elections. These incidents are acts of terrorism to threaten our elections.”
Spokane police said they were notified around 10 a.m. of a white powdery substance discovered at the county elections office. The department’s Explosive Disposal Unit and the Spokane Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team responded and retrieved the substance, which tested positive for fentanyl but negative for chemical/biological agents, explosive compounds, or other controlled substances.
“SPD is working with state and federal partners on this ongoing investigation. Similar incidents have occurred at other election offices across the state today,” the police department reported.
During Washington’s Aug. 1 primary, King County and Okanogan County election officials received suspicious substances in envelopes, said the Secretary of State’s Office.
The envelope and letter received by King County Elections were turned over to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which performed an analysis that detected trace amounts of fentanyl. The substance found in the Okanogan County envelope was determined to be unharmful.