Truth is Stranger than Fiction: Designated Survivor, Bioterrorism, and Elections

The bioterrorism scenario on last night's episode of ABC's Designated Survivor involved an attack with ricin specifically aimed at poll workers in an effort to derail Congressional election. While people who are not steeped in the history of bioterrorism may think this was just a far-fetched Hollywood fairytale, it was not. 

Over 20 years ago a similar plot was enacted successfully not in some banana republic but in the United States. The setting was a 1984 election in Oregon in which one of the issues was how a locality would handle a religious cult's (Rajneeshee) land holdings. In order to diminish voter turnout, salmonella was spread on restaurant salad bars sickening hundreds. 

It was not obvious that this represented a biological attack as poor food handling practices were how the event was initially described. Remeber that salmonella outbreaks are ubiquitous. Only after cultists eventually confessed was the actual etiology of the event uncovered -- underscoring how hard it can be to tell the difference between a natural and an intentional outbreak.

It would make a good movie.