NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, November 8th, 2023

Multiple Washington State county elections offices just got envelopes with white powder

This morn­ing, in what appears to be a dis­gust­ing coor­di­nat­ed attack on our sys­tem of elec­tions, three of Wash­ing­ton State’s four largest coun­ty elec­tions depart­ments received envelopes in the mail that con­tained a white pow­der, with at least one of the envelopes also con­tain­ing a note that read “End the elec­tion now,” accord­ing to coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials and ear­ly media reports.

Envelopes were received at the offices of Pierce, King, and Spokane Coun­ty Elec­tions. Those three coun­ties, along with Sno­homish, are the largest in the state, home to more than six­ty per­cent of Wash­ing­ton’s population.

In Pierce Coun­ty, the Taco­ma Police Depart­ment, Wash­ing­ton State Patrol, and the Taco­ma Fire Depart­ment all showed up to respond after a call was placed around 8:45 AM from a Pierce Coun­ty Elec­tions employ­ee to report the matter.

Sub­se­quent test­ing showed that the white pow­der was sim­ply bak­ing pow­der, which may also be the case for the oth­er envelopes that were sent, assum­ing they were sent by the same per­son or per­sons. Out of an abun­dance of cau­tion, the build­ing was evac­u­at­ed, though it has now been reopened.

A sim­i­lar sequence of events then took place in Spokane and King counties.

The Spokesman-Review report­ed, cit­ing Spokane Coun­ty Audi­tor Vicky Dal­ton, that an employ­ee opened an enve­lope with a “sus­pi­cious sub­stance” (white pow­der) around 10:15 AM. “The per­son informed her man­ag­er who halt­ed bal­lot count­ing and evac­u­at­ed the office,” the Spokesman-Review reported.

Dal­ton was advised by police not to resume count­ing today, so it looks like Spokane Coun­ty will not be releas­ing a fresh tal­ly of bal­lots this afternoon.

The sub­stance is being test­ed to ascer­tain what it is.

Over in Ren­ton, accord­ing to King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise, a King Coun­ty Elec­tions employ­ee like­wise opened a let­ter — not a bal­lot return enve­lope, Wise explained, but a let­ter — con­tain­ing white pow­der around 11 AM Pacif­ic Time. As in Pierce Coun­ty, first respon­ders were sum­moned. The King Coun­ty Elec­tions facil­i­ty was evac­u­at­ed as a precaution.

Haz­mat and fire crews are cur­rent­ly work­ing the scene.

Giv­en that this is break­ing news, there’s a lot we still don’t know, but it sim­ply can’t be a coin­ci­dence that three of the four largest coun­ty elec­tions offices in Wash­ing­ton all received envelopes with a white pow­der on the same morn­ing. And right on the heels of Seat­tle-area Jew­ish syn­a­gogues get­ting them, too.

We’d real­ly like to see who­ev­er is respon­si­ble for this get caught and pros­e­cut­ed to the full extent of the law by both fed­er­al and state local officials.

It is pos­si­ble that Sno­homish and oth­er coun­ty elec­tions offices were also sent envelopes, and if so, hope­ful­ly they can be intercepted.

This dis­turb­ing set of inci­dents is a reminder that there are bad actors out there who want to attack our democ­ra­cy. We must improve our threat defenses.

We cer­tain­ly could ben­e­fit from more robust mail screening.

NPI stands ready to work with leg­is­la­tors and part­ners to improve elec­tion secu­ri­ty. We are less than a year away from an extreme­ly con­se­quen­tial pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that bad actors will like­ly be seek­ing to dis­rupt and influ­ence for their own ends. It’s imper­a­tive that we allo­cate more resources to sup­port our elec­tion work­ers, and tough­en penal­ties for crimes per­pe­trat­ed against them.

UPDATE, 3 PM: Author­i­ties have con­firmed that Skag­it Coun­ty Elec­tions also received an enve­lope with white pow­der. Skag­it is a medi­um-sized coun­ty locat­ed between Sno­homish and What­com coun­ties in West­ern Washington.

NPI received a state­ment from Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs com­ment­ing on the inci­dent. Here is the news release that they just sent to us:

Envelopes received by elec­tions offices in King, Pierce, Skag­it, and Spokane coun­ties were found Wednes­day to con­tain unknown pow­dery sub­stances. Each impact­ed county’s elec­tions work­ers evac­u­at­ed their offices, and elec­tions lead­ers have tak­en pre­cau­tions to keep employ­ees and office vis­i­tors safe.

Local, state, and fed­er­al author­i­ties are inves­ti­gat­ing the inci­dents, which occurred while work­ers were pro­cess­ing bal­lots from the Nov. 7 Gen­er­al Elec­tion. Because inves­ti­ga­tions are ongo­ing, the Office of the Sec­re­tary of State can pro­vide no fur­ther infor­ma­tion about the incidents.

Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs said these 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,” Sec­re­tary Hobbs said. “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.”

Dur­ing the state’s Aug. 1 [Top Two elec­tion], King Coun­ty and Okanogan Coun­ty elec­tion offi­cials received sus­pi­cious sub­stances in envelopes. The enve­lope and let­ter received by King Coun­ty Elec­tions were turned over to the Unit­ed States 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.

UPDATE, 3:20 PM: King Coun­ty Elec­tions says that despite the dis­rup­tion, they will be releas­ing a new tal­ly today. Here’s their statement:

King Coun­ty Elec­tions to Post Updat­ed Results at 4 p.m.

This morn­ing, King Coun­ty Elec­tions received a piece of mail that con­tained white pow­der. The enve­lope was imme­di­ate­ly iso­lat­ed, the facil­i­ty evac­u­at­ed, and 911 was called. Law enforce­ment and HAZMAT teams arrived quick­ly to assess the situation.

The piece of con­cern­ing mail arrived in our mail­room, on the first floor, in our admin­is­tra­tive suite. All bal­lots remained secured on the bal­lot pro­cess­ing floor and were mon­i­tored by both secu­ri­ty cam­eras and livestreamed web­cams view­able on the King Coun­ty Elec­tions website.

This sit­u­a­tion kept Elec­tions staff out of the build­ing and away from pro­cess­ing bal­lots for approx­i­mate­ly three hours. After the mail­room was cleared and cleaned by HAZMAT, staff returned to work and pro­cess­ing resumed for the day.

We expect to add approx­i­mate­ly 20,000 bal­lots in the day’s 4 PM results update and will post addi­tion­al updat­ed results at 4 PM on week­days until cer­ti­fi­ca­tion on Novem­ber 28.

If we get fur­ther updates, we’ll add to this story.

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One Ping

  1. […] Bal­lot pro­cess­ing oper­a­tions in sev­er­al major coun­ties were sig­nif­i­cant­ly di…. The sub­se­quent facil­i­ty evac­u­a­tions and law enforce­ment inves­ti­ga­tions slowed down oper­a­tions in King, Pierce, Spokane, and Skag­it coun­ties. Spokane opt­ed not to run a tabulation. […]

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