Election Workers Face Challenges Amid Fentanyl-Laced Threats

Managing elections across thousands of local offices nationwide is anticipated to be challenging in 2024. However, the recent distribution of powder-filled envelopes to election offices in five states, Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, California, and Georgia, indicates an even more arduous year ahead.

These letters, currently under investigation by both the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the F.B.I., have raised concerns as some of them seem to be tainted with fentanyl. Moreover, at least two of the envelopes contained a cryptic message saying, “End elections now.”

These letters foreshadow the tense atmosphere that election officials are expected to encounter next year as they navigate the high-stakes competition for the White House, a contest that could significantly shape the trajectory of American democracy.

Tammy Patrick, chief executive for programs at the National Association of Election Officials, commented, “The system is going to be tested in every possible way, whether it’s voter registration, applications for ballots, poll workers, the mail, drop boxes, election results websites. Every way in which our elections are administered is going to be tested somewhere, at some time, during 2024.”

Ms. Patrick and fellow experts expressed assurance that those responsible for managing the upcoming election would handle the anticipated pressures, drawing parallels to the resilience demonstrated by poll workers during the 2020 election amidst a global pandemic.

However, they acknowledged the challenges ahead without downplaying them. They emphasized that the upcoming election year is poised to introduce even greater strains compared to previous instances. Factors such as the intensification of violent political rhetoric and the growing trend of experienced election officials resigning contribute to a heightened level of difficulty.

In the wake of 2020, an unparalleled number of senior election officials have either retired or resigned, with a significant portion attributing their departure to escalating threats and partisan interference in their roles.

According to the Elections & Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, turnover in election positions has doubled in the past year. Nearly one-third of election officials reported being aware of someone who had vacated an election position, citing concerns about safety as a contributing factor.

Ms. Patrick said, “I feel like we’re in a very tenuous time, but there are bright lights to see. In 2022, we had candidates who lost and conceded admirably and civilly. This month, we saw people continuing to serve as poll workers and people raising their hands to run for office on platforms of truth and legitimacy. As long as we have people who are willing to believe in facts, we’ll get through this.”