Four county election offices in Washington state were evacuated Wednesday after receiving envelopes containing suspicious powders, including two that tested positive for fentanyl, while workers were processing ballots for Tuesday's election.
Election offices were located in King County, home to Seattle, as well as Skagit, Spokane and Pierce counties, the Secretary of State's Office said in an emailed news release. Local, state and federal agents were investigating and no one was injured, authorities said.
Secretary of State Steve Hobbs called the incidents “acts of terrorism to threaten our elections.”
"These incidents underscore the critical need for stronger protections for all poll workers," he said.
Renton Police Detective Robert Onishi confirmed that an envelope received by workers at a King County elections office tested positive for fentanyl, while Spokane Police Department spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said that fentanyl was found in an envelope at the Spokane County elections office, The Seattle Times reported . .
The envelope received by the Pierce County elections office in Tacoma contained baking soda, Tacoma police spokesman William Muse told the newspaper.
A message inside the envelope said “something to the effect of stopping the election,” Muse said. “There was no candidate identified. No affiliated religious group was identified. No political problem was identified. “It was just that vague statement.”
Washington state voters cast their ballots by mail. Tuesday's elections concerned local and county elections and measures, including a question on renter protections in Tacoma, a close mayoral race in Spokane and close City Council races in Seattle.
Halei Watkins, communications manager for King County elections, told The Seattle Times that the envelope opened by staff in Renton on Wednesday morning was not a ballot. By 3 p.m., King County had returned to counting and planned to meet its original 4 p.m. deadline to release results, but the update would be “significantly smaller” than what is typically released the day after a election, Watkins said.
Spokane County Elections spokesman Patrick Bell said workers were sent home after the envelope was found mid-morning and that no more votes would be counted Wednesday.
The Secretary of State's Office said election officials in two counties (King and Okanogan) received suspicious substances in envelopes during the August primary. In the King County case, the envelope contained traces of fentanyl, while in Okanogan the substance was determined not to be harmful after testing by the United States Postal Inspection Service.