Wash. Secretary of State: ‘These are acts of terrorism’ regarding white powder in letters

Nov 9, 2023, 6:41 PM | Updated: 7:44 pm

Pierce County letter...

This letter laced with fentanyl was sent to the Pierce County elections office and confirmed by the Pierce County Auditor. (Photo: Pierce County elections)

(Photo: Pierce County elections)

Washington election offices are being hit with “acts of terrorism” as authorities are on alert to white powder in letters and threats to workers.

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs appeared on The Gee & Ursula Show this morning.

“These are acts of terrorism,” Hobbs declared. “And I do feel while I feel assured that unfortunately, other counties are going to get this letter.

“My message to the perpetrators is you have failed at stalling democracy. There was a slight pause, and they restarted again, so what you are doing is causing fear and terror amongst these innocent, hardworking election workers that all they want to do is process the election and keep our democracy going,” he said.

Election offices in King, Pierce, Skagit and Spokane counties were impacted. Late Thursday afternoon, a similar letter had arrived in a Snohomish County election office.

“It is a letter that is being delivered to these counties,” Hobbs said.  “I can’t really talk about the investigation that’s going on, but we have put the word out to the counties just the precautions that need to be taken.”

The FBI is investigating the letters, including the one delivered to the Pierce County elections office. There is no indication that symbols or markings on the letters reflect the source of the letters.

“FBI Seattle, along with our law enforcement partners, responded to multiple incidents involving suspicious letters sent to ballot counting centers in Washington state,” the FBI said in a statement. “As this is an ongoing matter, we do not have any further comment, but the public can be assured that law enforcement will continue to keep the public’s safety as its top priority. The FBI would also like to remind everyone to exercise care in handling mail, especially from unrecognized senders. If you see something suspicious, please contact law enforcement immediately.”

Pierce County threat letter

This letter laced with fentanyl was sent to the Pierce County elections office and confirmed by the Pierce County Auditor. (Photo: Pierce County elections)

No one has been harmed, but workers had to leave the buildings while emergency and law enforcement agencies investigated.

The Secretary of State’s office has been offering election workers Personal Protection Equipment left over from the pandemic to add a level of safety to the process.

“These election workers who are working in places like King, Pacific and Okanagan County, they didn’t sign up for this,” Hobbs said. “They just want to process the election and do their part in democracy.

“They’re going to be a little more cautious about these letters that are coming in,” Hobbs explained. “It’s at least it’s nice to know that it’s not a ballot. And so normal processing is happening with that. But they’re just taking some extra precautions when normal mail comes in.”

This isn’t new to western Washington election workers. In fact, Hobbs said it happened in August.

“And, unfortunately, this is I believe this is a prelude to what’s going to happen next year with increased threats to our election workers,” Hobbs explained.

Hobbs hopes that he can re-introduce a bill in the next state legislative session that would make threats to election workers a Class C felony.

“There’s a philosophy amongst some of the members that makes threats a class C felonies is too much. Now I will say the House actually did pass it last year,” Hobbs said. “And we thought that’s where the roadblock usually is, was in the House. But now it was the Senate last year and that was because of the sheer number of bills that have been mounted in the Senate.”

Hobbs said his office needs to do a better job at getting the word out about the ballot process itself.

“We’ve taken elections for granted,” he said. “We have done a really good job at telling people, ‘Don’t forget to vote. Don’t forget to put your ballot in the mail.’ But, we haven’t done a good job at telling you the ballot process. Did you know the tabulation machines are not connected to the internet? Did you know that we’re part of the electronic registration information system so that if you mail your ballot, we’re going to know about it and that your ballot signature is going to be checked?

Hobbs said that accusations of ballot corruption and that dead people are voting simply aren’t true.

King County Director of Elections Julie Wise confirms safety of ballots

Also appearing on Gee & Ursula, King County Director of Elections Julie Wise confirmed offices got the threatening letters containing fentanyl. No employees were harmed by the substance. Fentanyl cannot cause overdoses from contact.

She said in Renton a piece of mail arrived that contained white powder.

Wise explained that a team of election administrators followed our mail safety protocols.

“So what is involved in those protocols is immediately isolating the piece of mail, and evacuating the entire building. And we call 911,” Wise said. “Law enforcement and hazmat teams arrived very quickly to investigate.

“So all ballots remain secure on the ballot processing,” Wise explained. “Those who actually came into contact with a substance were cleared by medical staff and everyone seems to be doing as well as expected.”

Wise said the ballots themselves are all verified by voter signatures by comparing them to the signatures they have on their voter registration record before they actually open the ballot.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Wash. Secretary of State: ‘These are acts of terrorism’ regarding white powder in letters