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Georgia launches text alert system to notify officials about threats at polls

The new tool, which was first described to NBC News, is a response to the threats made against poll workers during and after the 2020 election.
An election official counts absentee ballots in Atlanta in November 2020.
An election official counts absentee ballots in Atlanta in November 2020. Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

When thousands of Georgia poll workers open their voting locations on Election Day, they will be equipped with a new tool designed to help protect them — a text alert system to report any threats at their polling places.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office created the incident reporting tool, which was first described to NBC News, in response to threats against state poll workers during and after the 2020 election.

Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the secretary of state's office, said the goal is to give county directors and state officials “real-time intelligence” from each of the state’s 159 counties.

“We are putting this in the hands of the poll managers and the elections directors so the responsible parties can get the information to the right people at the right time,” he said.

The alert system, which was activated Monday, the first day of early voting in the state, will allow poll managers in every precinct to text a special five-digit number to report any threats or concerning activities at their polling locations.

The information will then be sent to county election offices and the secretary of state's Elections Division during the early voting period and to the secretary of state’s “war room” — a command center where law enforcement and other officials gather — that will be set up on Election Day.

“We’re acting as a resource for whatever they need,” Sterling said, adding that the level of response will vary based on the magnitude of the threat. “We can be aware of it and get to them with the resources they need so they can feel safe.”

Depending on the severity of the threat, the response could include sending law enforcement officers to respond, he said.

Georgia experienced unprecedented threats to elections workers after the 2020 presidential election. A notable case in Fulton County involved election workers Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who testified to the House Jan. 6 committee that they were “forced into hiding” after election lies spread by Trump associates led to repeated threats.

Richard Barron, who ran Fulton County elections in 2020, said in April the threats his office received led to record turnover.

“The stress just wore people down,” Barron said at the time.

Sterling said officials have to strike a delicate balance between vigilance and not giving the possibility of threats too much attention.

“The problem is if you shine too much of a light on it, you’re inviting extra ones," Sterling said. "You’ve got to be aware of it, but you can’t overprepare for it, because at that point, you’re causing people to be scared and frightened.

“The main thing is voting has to always keep going," he added. "Nothing gets in the way of voting.”