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Election offices are sent envelopes with fentanyl or other substances. Authorities are investigating

Officials in at least three states — Georgia, Oregon and Washington — reported concerns over suspicious letters targeting election workers

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gives an update on the state of the election and ballot count at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., November 6, 2020.DUSTIN CHAMBERS (Reuters)

Authorities on Thursday were trying to determine who sent letters filled with fentanyl or other substances to local election offices, an attack that appears to have targeted multiple states in the latest instance of threats faced by election workers around the country.

Officials in at least three states — Georgia, Oregon and Washington — reported concerns over suspicious letters targeting election workers. Among the offices that appeared to 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.

There is no immediate indication that any other election office in Georgia was a target for the letters, according to an advisory sent by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency and obtained by The Associated Press.

Authorities in Lane County, Oregon, which includes the University of Oregon, were investigating a piece of suspicious mail that arrived at the local election office Wednesday. No one who came in contact with the letter 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 a scheduled afternoon pickup of ballots. Ashbridge declined to say whether any suspicious powder was contained in the mail, referring further questions to the FBI. “Someone attempted to terrorize our elections staff, and that’s not OK,” Ashbridge said. “We hope that someone will be held accountable.”

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

Tacoma Police spokesperson William Muse said a message inside the envelope received by Pierce County election workers said “something to the effect of stopping the election.”

Muse said “there was no candidate that was identified. There was no religious affiliated group identified. There was no political issue identified. It was just that vague statement.” Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said the incidents in his state were “acts of terrorism to threaten our elections.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Department of Justice said the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating, but had no further comment.

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. Researchers have found that the risk of fatal overdose from accidentally briefly touching or inhaling the drug is low, however.

It was not immediately clear how authorities came to suspect that a letter might have been sent to Georgia’s biggest election office. In the advisory Thursday, state officials warned counties to take precautions when handling mail.

Raffensperger said the state alerted all 159 of its counties of the possible threat yesterday, but believes only Fulton County is being targeted. It’s the latest disruption since the 2020 election to the office that oversees voting in and around Atlanta.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts, speaking at a news conference Thursday with Raffensperger, said the county’s election workers had been under threat since at least when two of them were singled out following the 2020 presidential election, with then-Republican President Donald Trump, attorney Rudolph Giuliani and others alleging that election workers were stuffing ballots to aid Democrats. Democrat Joe Biden narrowly won the state.

Part of the Fulton County prosecution that indicted Trump, Giuliani and 17 others includes criminal charges focusing on statements and acts made 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 said he believes that in 2024 Georgia’s most populous county will be the “focal point” of election scrutiny. “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 increase the security of their buildings and boost protections of workers amid an onslaught of harassment and threats following the 2020 election and the false claims that it was rigged.

It’s a “sad reality” that election officials are still facing 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 it may be unlikely this attack would cause serious damage, it seems clearly designed to terrorize the public servants in these offices who run elections,” Becker said.

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