Adams County investigates white powder found on ballot as officials reassure voters the election is safe

Adams County investigates white powder found on ballot as officials reassure voters the election is safe
Posted at 5:36 PM, Nov 03, 2022

ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. — The Adams County Sheriff’s Office has launched a criminal investigation into a suspicious white power that was found on a ballot Wednesday morning.

The ballot was picked up by election workers from a drop-off ballot box around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday and brought back to Adams County Elections, where workers discovered a white powder coming out of the envelope.

“The powder was spilling out. And then when you felt it, you could feel something granular inside the ballot envelope,” said Adams County Clerk and Recorder Josh Zygielbaum.

A HAZMAT team, paramedics and firefighters responded. The ballot was isolated and tested for chemicals. Initial tests were negative for narcotics, explosives or biological agents, according to officials.

However, Zygielbaum said an unknown chemical was detected, which became a concern, so a sample was sent to a state lab for testing. Full results will take up to five days to come back.

If the substance is determined to be safe, the county will move forward with processing the ballot. If it is not, while the sheriff’s office may move forward with possible criminal charges, the elections division will be working with the voter to help them cast a new ballot.

“The only time someone loses their right to vote in Colorado is when they are incarcerated on a felony conviction. As this incident is still under investigation, we will ensure that this voter maintains their right to vote,” Zygielbaum said.

During a press conference Thursday, the clerk wanted to ensure residents that security protocols were followed, that teams are prepared to handle incidents like this and that the election is safe.

"For us, this isn't something that is totally unexpected. That's why we're prepared for it. It is unfortunate that incidences like this take place,” he said. “We will not allow an incident like this to disrupt our election any way. Voters should continue to turn in their ballots.”

All 64 Colorado counties were alerted about the incident.

Initial testing indicated that cooking substances — things like butter and flour — were found in the envelope.

Even if all of the substances are determined to be benign, however, this scare comes at a time of heightened tensions and heightened security for election workers.

“We certainly live in interesting times for election workers, there's a lot going on,” said Matt Crane, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. “Unfortunately, after 2020, we've now had to become physical security experts because of threats — not from foreign adversaries, but unfortunately, from fellow citizens.”

Crane testified in front of the U.S. Senate in August about the threats election workers are facing, telling lawmakers that there’s been an uptick in everything from concerning emails to physical threats. His message to lawmakers was for political leadership to have the courage to stand up to election deniers for the sake of democracy.

Colorado is one of seven states the FBI says is seeing an unusual level of threats to election workers recently. The other states include Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Wisconsin.

“We're very fractured right now, and we have to be vigilant against threats. But also, election officials are working very hard to protect and secure the elections,” Crane said.

In the run-up to the midterm elections, counties across Colorado are in the process of ramping up their security protocols. Voters may notice some of the changes, but many others are happening behind the scenes.

In Adams County, more physical barriers, like doors and windows, were added to the elections division so that people can’t simply walk into the office whenever they want.

Over at the Denver Election Headquarters, meanwhile, final training was underway Thursday for election workers. Officials went over everything from de-escalation tactics to active shooter training before diving into simulated training with the workers. The room was mainly comprised of first-time election workers like Logan Riggs. He will be working as a voting technician on November 8, helping with printers, laptops and more.

Riggs is well aware of the threats election workers are facing these days and said he did discuss the job with his wife beforehand.

“My wife had a little concern, but she knows that we're doing this for the right reasons, and we have the opportunity here in America to do good things and part of it is the election process,” he said.

Riggs was in a room with Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, all committing themselves to working the election and making sure the process goes smoothly. He said being surrounded by so many others who care about protecting and upholding the election process give him hope that people can come together.

“I believe in America, I believe in democracy. And we all got to do our part to make sure it's upheld. So I figured this the best way getting to be a part of these elections,” Riggs said.

After the 2020 election, Crane said across the state, some workers were concerned about their safety and left because they didn’t want to deal with the headaches, threats, intimidation and more. However, he’s proud of the workers who will be helping to facilitate the election this time around and said, in the end, it’s about the feeling of having helped uphold democracy, if even in a small way.

“You sit there and you just kind of look, and you realize that you have just helped facilitate one of our greatest, most important rights as Americans, something that people have fought and marched and died for,” Crane said.

Despite the election threats, Crane said the best thing people can do is to show up and vote or return their ballots.