Waterville

First responders in hazmat suits wait to decontaminate people who were in the Douglas County Courthouse when an unknown powder was discovered in an election ballot on Thursday. 

WATERVILLE — A 66-year-old Waterville man is suspected of putting a white powder into an election ballot, prompting an emergency shutdown of the Douglas County Courthouse late last month.

Howard Allen Lane is accused of submitting a ballot containing a non-hazardous powder to the Douglas County Auditor’s Office, according to Sheriff Kevin Morris.

An elections department employee removed the ballot from its secrecy sleeve on Oct. 24 and was exposed to the powder. The employee and three others were hospitalized as a precaution and the courthouse was closed for the remainder of the day and again Oct. 25.

Lane was arrested Friday on suspicion of acts prohibited in a voting center, a gross misdemeanor. He’s being held at the Okanogan County Jail.

Lane denied any involvement.

“He did not provide any reason why the powder was in his envelope,” Morris said.

Detectives pinpointed Lane by backtracking through previously counted ballots.

Morris explained that elections staffers remove ballots from envelopes and then place them in separate stacks. The tainted ballot corresponded sequentially with Lane’s envelope, which also contained traces of powder.

“So the detective was basically able to count backward,” Morris said. “He found exactly where it was.”

He added, “What makes it a little bit more challenging is elections are designed to be anonymous, so had it made it one step further than that they never would have found it.”

Morris does not expect any federal agencies to pursue charges against Lane.

“At this point, we’re not anticipating that anybody is interested federally,” Morris said. “So it’s just going to be a local charge.”

Pete O’Cain: 664-7152

ocain@wenatcheeworld.com or

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