Add Fentanyl-Laced Mail-In Ballots To The List Of Threats Election Officials Must Guard Against In The Fall

An officer from the Customs and Border Protection, Trade and Cargo Division works with a dog to check parcels at John F. Kennedy Airport's US Postal Service facility on June 24, 2019 in New York. - In a windowless ha... An officer from the Customs and Border Protection, Trade and Cargo Division works with a dog to check parcels at John F. Kennedy Airport's US Postal Service facility on June 24, 2019 in New York. - In a windowless hangar at New York's JFK airport, dozens of law enforcement officers sift through packages, looking for fentanyl -- a drug that is killing Americans every day. The US Postal Service facility has become one of multiple fronts in the United States' war on opioid addiction, which kills tens of thousands of people every year and ravages communities. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Last November, just one day after a special election in Lane County, Oregon, an election worker opened an envelope addressed to the county clerk’s office. It contained a letter that read “stop elections now” and was accompanied by a suspicious-looking white powdery substance, Lane County Clerk Dena Dawson told TPM. The powder, which Dawson was not able to confirm pending an ongoing investigation, was feared to be fentanyl.  

In response to the incident and ahead of November 2024, election officials in Lane County have now instituted two new policies that are standard for all election staff in the county: in–person training on administering Narcan in case of accidental fentanyl exposure and an updated mail-opening policy.

It’s a grim reality, but Dawson described the additional training and new procedures as simply part of “the elections world that we are living in now.”

“There is a significant shift in the training that election officials are receiving,” she added. “And that is part of the status quo now.”

And it’s not just happening in Lane County. 

Election officials across the country are learning how to use Narcan, implementing new  rules about glove-wearing while opening mail, and figuring out how drug-sniffing dogs will fit into their ballot processing systems ahead of the 2024 election. These new processes are a response to 2020 election threats and yet another stark reminder of the dangerous world election workers now find themselves in.  

“In the past, although people have been aware that there is a possibility of things being mailed to an office it didn’t rise to the level of priority that I think that it has in this moment since it has actually happened,” Tammy Patrick, Chief Executive Officer for Programs of The Election Center told TPM.

In Lane County, as Dawson described, staff now opens mail in a separate room that can be closed off in the event that it contains a dangerous substance. The county has also developed best practices for how to respond if a dangerous substance is found in a mail-in ballot or another form of mail, which involves covering the mail with plastic and identifying where the mail was received from in order to quickly notify the secretary of state’s office and the FBI. 

Dawson calls it a “grab and go contingency plan” in case of dangerous mail. 

Similar to Lane County, four county election offices in Washington state were evacuated after receiving envelopes containing unknown-powder substances in 2023. Two of the offices, which were processing ballots following an election, confirmed the envelopes contained fentanyl. Although nobody was hurt, and fentanyl overdose is not possible by touch, but rather through ingestion, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee warned against the incident as the “latest attack on democracy.”

It’s happening in big cities too. Los Angeles county officials are stocking up on Narcan at ballot processing centers and bringing in the Canine Drug Unit to help identify suspicious mail. 

These new training programs are really indicative of the seriousness of the situation that election workers find themselves in now, Patrick said. 

“It puts a fine point on the seriousness of our situation and the lengths to which we need to be protecting our election workers,” she said.  

Although the Dane County Clerk offices in Wisconsin have not had any direct experience with dangerous substances sent in through the mail, Clerk Scott McDonell is also preparing his staff for the possibility ahead of November.

So far, his office has delivered Narcan to municipal clerks around the county, and, in addition to providing training through the county’s emergency management department on how to use it, election officials there also plan to have Narcan available at every polling place. And although the details aren’t yet ironed out, McDonell says there are plans to use drug dogs to sniff out any dangerous substances in absentee ballots. 

While procuring drug-sniffing dogs may seem like an unusual way to prepare for an upcoming presidential election, McDonell noted that, unfortunately, he’s just getting used to this new reality. 

“This is just one of many, unfortunately, threats that we’re preparing for,” he said.  

In Jefferson County, Colorado, County Clerk Amanda Gonzalez is similarly preparing her staff for the potential threat of dangerous mail. Like McDonell, she views the extra precautionary steps as a necessary part of this new election landscape.

“It’s a different world these days,” she said.

Working with the county’s emergency management department, the clerk and recorder’s offices have stocked up on Narcan at the ballot processing facility and at vote centers in case someone is exposed to fentanyl in a malicious way. 

Gonzalez noted that her office has updated how staff opens mail, as well — requiring staff to wear gloves when opening any sort of mail, and opening mail in a smaller room in case the room needs to be quarantined. 

“While we take any kind of threat seriously and we’re making sure that we’re preparing, I also am really reassured by the fact that I see our bipartisan election teams working hand in hand in productive and professional ways,” she added.  

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Notable Replies

  1. Gosh, I wonder which political persuasion is more likely to do such a thing. Well, probably both sides. Politics sucks. What’s the point of voting? Pass the chips!

  2. Add Fentanyl-Laced Mail-In Ballots To The List Of Threats Election Officials Must Guard Against In The Fall“

    It’s like there are people on one side or the other who want to sabotage vote by mail. Gee, I wonder which side’s supporters they might be?

    Duh, it isn’t Democrats.

  3. At last night’s forum for GOP candidates in Colorado CD-4, two of the candidates said we have to build that wall and close the border because Biden is letting fentanyl come across the border and straight into Colorado. This just confirms their concerns are fact based because the GOP would never stoop to mindless fear mongering.

    The forum also confirmed that Boebert, who was a no-show because she is too busy governing the country, is not the wackiest candidate in that deep, deep red district.

  4. Avatar for tpr tpr says:

    In 2001, air travel changed forever.
    In 2020, U.S. elections changed forever.

    It is gonna be really hard to build anything in the future, now that every single brick has to be defended from the assassin’s veto.

    A lot of this would be unnecessary if Rupert Murdoch had been stopped before he gained a stranglehold on the politics of three first-world countries.

  5. He just took on Wife #5. Let’s hope she stabs him in his sleep.

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