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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

FBI investigating in Washington, other parts of the country over mysterious letters sent to elections offices

Police officers, elections workers and members of the media stand outside the Spokane County elections office Wednesday in Spokane. The office was evacuated after an election worker detected white powder in an envelope. The office was cleaned and reopened Thursday to continue counting ballots cast in Tuesday’s elections.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The FBI is investigating after a series of letters and white powdery substances were delivered to Washington elections offices on Wednesday and Thursday.

Elections offices in Spokane, Pierce, and King counties were evacuated Wednesday. Snohomish County also reported receiving a suspicious envelope on Thursday, the Everett Herald reported.

Other offices across the U.S. experienced something similar, according to a statement released on Thursday by the FBI to the Pierce County Auditor. Law enforcement said letters and suspicious substances were mailed to counties in California, Georgia, Oregon and Nevada.

Ballot counting from Tuesday’s election was immediately halted in Spokane and resumed Thursday.

In Spokane County, the substance later tested positive for fentanyl, according to Spokane Police Department. The FBI said in their release that in four instances, preliminary tests indicated some presence of fentanyl as well. The Pierce County envelope contained baking soda, the Herald reported.

It’s unclear if the letters each office received are identical or similar.

Pierce County Auditor’s Office released its letter to the media, which called to “end elections.”

It was the only letter in Washington that was released, to the knowledge of Pierce County Auditor Linda Farmer.

“Stop giving power to the right that they don’t have. We are in charge now and there is no more need for them. Also be aware your ballot drops are very susceptible to noxious chemicals like AM/BL. They are unsafe to the public. Just saying,” the note said.

“We contacted all the other auditors and said to be on the lookout, and don’t open it,” Farmer said. “We sent images to county auditor partners out of safety. We didn’t want other auditors opening the letter if they didn’t have to.”

Farmer said this is just a case of bad actors trying to derail democracy.

“They’re going to keep trying to come up with ways to do that. It’s just a consequence of the times we live in,” she said.

Social media has exploded with theories and assumptions about the elections offices and letters. Western States Center extremist expert and program manager Kate Bitz said it’s too early to make any assumption on whether these actions were coordinated and who participated.

“It’s very concerning. People should be waiting for more information on this as law enforcement investigates and we wait to see how widespread this has been,” Bitz said. “Information is still emerging. Police are still investigating. I caution against jumping to conclusions.”

Western States Center also posted on social media about the incident, saying while it don’t know much yet, it’s troubling in the context that there have been rising threats and intimidation toward election workers and attacks on the democratic process.

“Our thoughts are with the election officials and workers who are affected by this incident,” the statement read.

Washington State GOP also issued a statement on the matter on Wednesday, before the Pierce County note was made public. WAGOP said the packages “may lead to greater doubt and skepticism about the reliability of the state’s election processes,” which is possibly what the sender intended.

“It doesn’t matter what political ideology, if any, the sender supports,” it said. “These actions are wrong.”

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs said in a news release Wednesday that these incidents show the need for stronger protections surrounding election workers.

“Democracy rests upon free and fair elections,” Hobbs said. “These incidents were an act of terrorism to threaten our elections.”

SPD said it is still working with the FBI to determine who the lead agency is on the investigation in Spokane County and declined to comment further. The United States Postal Service also declined to comment.