Alarming letters are causing concern as they are being sent to vote centers and government buildings in six states. These letters, which were received earlier this month, contain traces of fentanyl or white powder along with implicit threats and politically charged symbols. This situation is reminiscent of the anthrax attacks in 2001 which resulted in the tragic loss of five lives. Election officials, who are already facing harassment and threats, are now seeking assistance from local police, fire, and health departments to acquire naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses. This proactive measure is seen as a sensible precaution given the addiction crisis that claims the lives of more than 100,000 individuals annually in the United States. Furthermore, it provides reassurance to the stressed election workers, according to election managers.
These concerning letters were sent to vote centers and government buildings in Georgia, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, and Kansas. While some were intercepted before arriving at their intended destinations, others were successfully delivered, resulting in evacuations and temporary delays in vote counting during local elections. The FBI and US Postal Inspection Service are currently investigating the source of these suspicious letters. Symbols associated with antifascism, LGBTQ+ pride, and pentagrams were featured in these letters. It is important to note that although these symbols have been linked to left-wing politics, they have also been adopted by conservative individuals to categorize and stereotype the left. The political ideologies of the senders remain unclear at this time.
Fentanyl, an incredibly potent opioid known to be up to 50 times stronger than heroin, is a leading contributor to the overdose crisis. This harmful substance is often pressed into pills or mixed in with other drugs. It is crucial to understand that brief contact with fentanyl does not pose a risk of overdose. Research has shown that accidental exposure to fentanyl carries a low risk of fatal overdose, unlike powdered anthrax which can become airborne and cause deadly infections when inhaled.
Since the spread of false claims about the 2020 election by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, election workers across the nation have been subjected to threats, harassment, and intimidation. The constant physical, emotional, and psychological abuse they have endured has led many election officials to resign from their positions.
In order to ensure the safety of election workers, officials are implementing precautionary measures. Some have reached out to fire departments to obtain naloxone, such as Ann Dover, the elections director in Cherokee County, Georgia. Additionally, new mail handling protocols have been put in place, including designating one person to open mail while wearing protective gloves and a mask. Both Lane County, Oregon, and Lincoln County, Nevada are providing naloxone kits to their election staff members and training them on how to administer it. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office has announced that naloxone will be distributed to all 159 counties in the state after a letter meant for elections officials in Fulton County tested positive for opioids. Raffensperger, who strongly denounced the letters, shared that his own son tragically lost his life to a fentanyl overdose five years ago, underscoring the lethal nature of this substance. Some of these suspicious letters, including those sent to King and Pierce counties in Washington state, bear striking resemblances to one received by King County during the primary election held earlier this year.King County Elections has acquired naloxone as a precautionary measure following an incident involving a fentanyl-laced letter. According to Halei Watkins, spokesperson for King County Elections, although naloxone was not needed during the incident or the recent arrival of another fentanyl-laced letter, they deemed it wise to have naloxone on hand given the current circumstances. As a result, naloxone has been positioned in various locations within the building alongside first aid and emergency kits.
In response to this development, Maya Doe-Simkins, co-director of Remedy Alliance/For The People, has voiced her concern regarding the allocation of resources. Doe-Simkins argues that governments should prioritize providing naloxone to individuals working with those at risk of overdose, rather than directing resources towards ensuring election officials have access to naloxone. She criticizes the insufficient funding behind the appropriate and evidence-based distribution of naloxone.
In contrast, Chris Anderson, the elections supervisor in Seminole County, Florida, has taken proactive measures by obtaining Narcan from the fire department. Anderson emphasizes the importance of having naloxone readily available, stating the principle of "better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it." This step has been taken to potentially save lives in case of an emergency.
Similarly, Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer, based in Tacoma, Washington, has acquired naloxone for her office following the experience of King County in August. In addition, she has used this opportunity to remind her staff about the availability of naloxone after receiving a threatening letter containing baking soda this month. This ensures that her office is prepared to face any potential future incidents.