Suspicious letters potentially laced with fentanyl sent to election offices being investigated by federal law enforcement
Nov 9, 2023, 3:56 PM
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)
(CNN) — Federal law enforcement officials are investigating reports of suspicious letters sent to election offices, a Justice Department spokesperson said Thursday.
“We are aware of the reports and the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating this matter,” the department spokesperson said in response to an inquiry from CNN. The official said the DOJ would not comment further.
Election officials in Georgia, Oregon and Washington state reported receiving suspicious mail.
In a statement Thursday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Fulton County, Georgia – which includes large swaths of Atlanta – had been among the election offices in multiple states targeted with suspicious letters.
Officials in Georgia said the letter received by Fulton County was suspected to contain fentanyl.
“We’re working with our state and federal partners to determine if any additional Georgia officials are being targeted,” Raffensperger said. “Domestic terrorists will not trample on our right to free and fair elections.”
CNN previously reported that election offices across multiple counties in Washington state had received envelopes on Wednesday that contained powdery substances.
At a news conference Thursday, Raffensperger called on elected officials and political candidates to condemn the activity and invoked the death of his son to convey the seriousness of the matter.
“Some people like to call fentanyl a drug, but it’s actually poison,” he said. “It’ll kill you … very quickly and very easily. It’s very dangerous.”
“We lost our son five and half years ago due to fentanyl overdose. We know how deadly this stuff is,” Raffensperger said.
Fentanyl was found in an envelope received by election officials Wednesday in King County, Washington – home to Seattle – the county’s elections director Julie Wise told CNN.
Staffers opening the envelope Wednesday detected white powder and immediately isolated the letter, called law enforcement and evacuated the building, she said.
Wise said her staff did not read the contents of the letter, but she described the situation as eerily similar to one over the summer when another letter – this one saying that there should not be elections – was also later found to contain trace amounts of fentanyl. She said the US Postal Inspection Service investigated the earlier incident.
Wednesday’s letter arrived as officials were counting ballots following Tuesday’s local elections, and it prompted the evacuation of some 150 workers for about three hours, she said.
“It’s devastating” for the county’s election workers to be targeted in this fashion, Wise said. “They are human beings. They have families. They are here to do a job. They believe in democracy.”
But she said her team resumed work as soon as they could on Wednesday, undeterred by the incident.
“If anything, it’s fired us up even more,” Wise added. “It made us want to continue to do the important work of processing ballots. … We are not going to be broken down.”
In neighboring Oregon, an election office in Lane County – which is about 120 miles south of Portland – also received a suspicious piece of mail at their office on Wednesday, a county official told CNN.
Asked about the suspicious letters reported this week, a spokesperson for the US Postal Inspection Service said the agency “cannot comment on potential ongoing investigations.”
The reports come against a backdrop of election officials facing threats and harassment, first ignited by false claims of a stolen election in 2020.
Voting rights activists and some state election chiefs have warned that the overheated political climate around voting has contributed to a wave of resignations and retirements by election officials around the country.
The US Justice Department has brought criminal charges against at least 14 people after creating a task force in 2021 to address threats against election workers, according to a recent department summary.
At Thursday’s news conference in Georgia, Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts said the letters show that there are “some crazy people out there who will go to any extreme to disrupt” US elections.
“It’s my personal belief that this is just probably a forerunner into what we can be prepared for in 2024.”