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Coffee County security breach began with selfies. Now it won’t go away

By Tom Baxter

That little old Coffee County election security case just isn’t going away.

Last week, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that his office was replacing the election equipment in Coffee County to the tune of around $400,000, an act he said “puts to an end any argument that the results in Coffee County, and anywhere else in Georgia for that matter, will not accurately reflect the will of Georgia voters.”

Raffensperger’s attempt to put the matter to rest was immediately branded as inadequate by the Coalition for Good Governance, which has been a driving force along with the reporting of The Washington Post in bringing the Coffee County story to light. The state’s top election official may have signaled some assurances about the way he intends to run this year’s vote, but the repercussions from this story will continue to grow.

In the official tally of the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump got 10,573 votes in Coffee County, and Joe Biden got 4,511. But there was a difference of 51 votes between the original count and the recount. This is not unusual, but ultimately it’s how a small county where Trump won in a landslide suddenly drew the attention of a national troupe of election-deniers.

It’s unclear what was going on in the Coffee County election office in the weeks after the November election, but it was the only county in the state to miss its validation deadline. In early December, the Secretary of State’s Office opened an investigation into how the election had been conducted there. Around this time also, the county election director at that time, Misty Hampton, made a video claiming to show how a Dominion voting machine could be manipulated.

A few weeks later, on Jan. 7, 2021, Hampton showed up on another video — surveillance footage of Hampton and then-county GOP chair Cathy Latham ushering a computer forensics team hired by Sidney Powell into the elections office. Powell apparently saw Coffee County as a weak link that might give the Trump team access to the inner workings of the Dominion machines. According to Scott Hall, an Atlanta bail bondsman who claimed he footed the bill to fly the forensics team to Coffee County, they scanned all the equipment, imaged all the hard drives, and scanned every single ballot.”

In one of the many twists in this story, Hall made this stunning admission in a taped telephone conversation with Marilyn Marks, the executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance. He made the unsolicited call, seemingly because he was curious about what had happened to all the data the Trump team had extracted and had been unable to learn more.

Hampton and another elections office employee were fired a few weeks after the election, according to one report for falsifying timesheets, and her successor notified the Secretary of State’s Office of the breach. It was more than a year before news of the breach was reported, and the surveillance videos of the group both entering the election office and lingering inside for hours didn’t come to light until earlier this month.

By that time, Latham had testified in a civil case brought by the Coalition for Good Governance that she had only seen Scott and the others for a brief time and didn’t know what they were doing, which the video footage seems to contradict. Latham is also one of the so-called “fake electors” who have been subpoenaed by the Fulton County grand jury investigating possible criminal interference in the election.

Raffensperger said last week that his office at first dismissed claims about the security breach because Hampton lied to his investigators. The investigation will continue, he said in a release, and “anyone who broke the law should be punished to its fullest extent.”

That’s an ominous statement about something that began in such a lighthearted mood. On the surveillance footage from last year, Latham can be seen taking selfies with one of the techies, one day after rioters took selfies as they strolled through the halls of the nation’s Capitol.

 

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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