4 elections offices in Washington are evacuated due to suspicious envelopes, 2 containing fentanyl

SEATTLE (AP) — Four county elections offices in Washington state were evacuated Wednesday after they received envelopes containing suspicious powders — including two that field-tested positive for fentanyl — while workers were processing ballots from Tuesday’s election.

The elections offices were located in King County — home of Seattle — as well as Skagit, Spokane and Pierce counties, the Secretary of State’s Office said in emailed news release. Local, state and federal agents were investigating, and no one was injured, officials 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 election workers,” he said.

Renton police detective Robert Onishi confirmed that an envelope received by workers at a King County elections office field-tested positive for fentanyl, while Spokane Police Department spokesperson Julie Humphreys said 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 spokesperson William Muse told the paper.

A message inside the envelope 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.”

Voters in Washington state cast their ballots by mail. Tuesday’s elections concerned local and county races and measures, including a question on renter protections in Tacoma, a tight mayor’s race in Spokane and close City Council races in Seattle.

Halei Watkins, communications manager for King County Elections, told The Seattle Times the envelope opened by staffers in Renton on Wednesday morning was not a ballot. By 3 p.m., King County had returned to counting and was planning to meet its original 4 p.m. deadline to post results, but the update would be “significantly smaller” than what is usually posted on the day after an election, Watkins said.

Patrick Bell, a spokesperson for Spokane County Elections, said workers were sent home after the envelope was found mid-morning and no further votes would be counted Wednesday.

The Secretary of State’s Office noted that elections officials in two counties — King and Okanogan — received suspicious substances in envelopes during the August primary. In the case of King County, the envelope contained trace amounts of fentanyl, while in Okanogan the substance was determined to be unharmful on testing by the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.