DOUGLAS — Sitting at a back table in the Ole Times restaurant, Larry Nesmith was putting a cold drink to his lips when his phone rang. It was his wife calling. They live near high school, and the kids in their trucks can get a little excited after school. She said one of them hit a fence and then sped off. The blue lights of the sheriff’s car passed a few moments later.
“It’s the kind of news we’re used to, a kid in a truck,” said Nesmith, a Democrat and community activist who ran for local office. “That other stuff? Not used to that here.
“That Something Else” was the violation of the Coffee County Elections and Registration Office on January 7, 2021. Cathy Latham, Coffee County Republican Party Chairwoman, Misty Hampton, County Supervisor of Elections, and Eric Chaney , a member of the county board of elections, were involved in opening the election office on W. Ashley Avenue for cyber sleuths working for conspiracy attorney Sidney Powell, whose main client was President Donald Trump.
Computer scientists copied hard drives and scrutinized the operation of Dominion Voting’s proprietary software, which provides the voting technology used by the state. They claimed to have scanned every vote, according to court documents. They were looking for supposed vulnerabilities in the voting machines that could help explain Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election. They also wanted evidence of voter fraud, which seemed like a cockamamie in an election where Trump won 70% voices in Coffee County.
Now the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Fulton County District Attorney are investigating, as is the office of Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State, who was first briefed by a new Chief Electoral Officer in the spring of 2021 that he found the business card of a notorious Trump supporter near the computer used by Hampton at the Coffee Elections office. This led to a state investigator visiting Coffee County and subsequently removing the server.
In response to a subpoena filed by the plaintiffs, Coffee County attorneys this week released a video that revealed footage from the elections office on Jan. 7, 2021, when the county’s GOP chairwoman
Latham, election committee member Eric Chaney and chief election officer Misty Hampton were joined by Hall, Paul Maggio, chief operating officer of Atlanta-based forensic data firm SullivanStrickler.
News of an attempted violation in Coffee County became public this spring after Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, released a recording of a phone call she had in March. 2021 in which the Atlanta Hall surety claimed he provided a flight for a team of people to travel to Coffee County to copy voting records to discredit the machines and vindicate Trump’s efforts to nullify the election results.
Raffensperger publicly launched an investigation into the Coffee County violation episode last March due to pressure from Marks. The revelation in the spring of 2022 of a video showing Hampton inaugurating a group that copied recordings from voting machines prompted Raffensperger to take a closer look at events at the county courthouse in January 2021.
As recently as April, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling denied the violation claim. This summer, however, the Secretary of State’s office confirmed that an investigation was underway and that the GBI was assisting.
Meanwhile, Coffee County is striving to make national news for all the wrong reasons. There is some national contempt for the southern Georgia town and county of about 43,000 people, as it is seen as a haven for disgruntled and undemocratic losers. Mike Lindell, the My Pillow millionaire who has promoted various conspiracy theories supporting Trump, has been to Coffee County airport twice and it has fueled the idea that the county is full of angry Trump loyalists.
“I spoke to all of the county commissioners, all but one Republican, and they were shocked by what happened at the election office and upset,” Nesmith said.
On Peterson Street, which is the main street here in Douglas, Jill Cravey, owner of The Crave Boutique on Peterson Avenue, couldn’t contain her disgust.
“I don’t trust any of them now after this, Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “I’m paying all this money in taxes for this?” It’s a big mess. »
Three women having lunch in downtown Sparky were unaware of the details of the attempted breach. Their eyes widened in interest as they heard local officials helping strangers find out how every Coffee County citizen voted and perhaps review other sensitive voter data.
“Sneaky,” said computer consultant Jasmine Scott. ” I do not like it. We don’t like sneaky stuff.
Others who were arrested and questioned about the breach on Peterson Street this week simply shrugged and said they hadn’t really been following the episode.
Latham moved to Texas. Hampton was fired as an election supervisor and works at the bank. Chaney has resigned his seat on the Board of Elections and is working on his family’s used car lot.
Whether it costs more than just a black eye in Coffee County remains to be seen.
Marks, who has challenged election security since 2017, said all election materials should be dumped. The state replaced Coffee County’s server after the breach, but she said all election materials, including polling blocks, were corrupted.
The State owns the electoral material. Will he ask Coffee County taxpayers to reimburse him for the waiter, or just let it fade?
Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Raffensperger, did not return an email request asking for the costs of the violation and whether they would be passed on to the county.
Wesley Vickers, the county administrator, told the Georgia Recorder in his office on Monday, he is unaware that the state is charging the county for new election materials or cleaning.
Across the street at the Elections Office, Rachel Ann Roberts, who served as the Coffee County election supervisor for nine months, said there has been no request for money from the state to replace voting materials.
“What about attorney fees for dealing with Dominion whose software was reviewed?” Nesmith said. “Do I and the other taxpayers have to pay for this? What are the total costs to Coffee County ratepayers associated with this violation? »
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Robert Preston Jr. runs local online media site DouglasNow. He said he was a neighbor of Hampton, the fired election supervisor, and she is a friend. Preston said local officials ‘honestly believe something happened statewide’ regarding voter fraud and that’s why they opened up the elections office to so-called ‘cyber ninjas’ supporting Trump.
President Joe Biden defeated Trump by 11,779 votes in the state. Trump tried to shake Raffensperger into votes to overturn Biden’s victory and one avenue was to challenge the value of voting machines.
“They thought they were going to find some type of voter fraud in Georgia that would have caused Trump to lose the election,” Preston said. “And that what they found would end up overturning the election. Obviously, that didn’t happen. And I don’t think they thought they were breaking any laws.
Preston insists there were no county-wide convictions for Latham, Hampton and Chaney.
“I think the majority of people here in Coffee County feel that the efforts of the people who were named in this event were acting in good faith to try to uncover potential voter fraud,” he said. he declares. “And when we’ve been posting stories to provide some coverage, the local comments that are coming in, not all but most of the local comments, seem to support what happened.”
Nesmith disagrees and said many people in the county are unhappy with the trio. Additionally, the Republican supporters in the county he spoke with aren’t as vocal as others across the country about Trump being cheated out of the White House in 2020.
“I don’t hear how Trump really won, really not,” Nesmith said.
Senior reporter Stanley Dunlap contributed to this report.