Here’s How Coffee County Is Recovering From a 2020 Election Scandal

October 25, 2023
3 mins read
Coffee County’s election office has seen new voting equipment, new staff and even new office space since allies of former President Trump organized and carried out a plot to illegally copy the county’s voting data. Stephen Fowler/GPB

It’s the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday, and Coffee County elections supervisor Christy Nipper is calm and relaxed. Early voting for municipal elections is underway and running smoothly. Voters occasionally call with questions about who’s on the ballot and everything else is “business as usual.”

That might not seem remarkable for a small elections office in a low-turnout cycle with few contested races, but it’s a big deal for a county that was thrust into the limelight after the 2020 election — and not for a good reason.

Former President Donald Trump and his allies tried many ways to overturn his narrow defeat in Georgia — and failed. But in Coffee County, a plan coordinated by attorney Sidney Powell saw people unlawfully copy almost everything they could find in an attempt to find fraud.

Those people included Scott Hall, an Atlanta-area bail bondsman who bragged about scanning “every freaking ballot” in a recorded phone call later revealed by activists who are part of a yearslong legal effort to get rid of Georgia’s electronic voting system.

On Jan. 7, 2021, Hall and several others just walked into the Coffee County elections office and got to work illegally copying everything they could. They hoped to find proof that irregularities tainted the election outcome and were helped in their endeavor by the elections supervisor at the time, Misty Hampton.

It’s been two and-a-half years since the data breach. There was no fraud that affected Georgia’s thrice-counted results and, much like the trains that run frequently outside the elections office, everyone in Coffee County seems eager to move on, full steam ahead, Nipper said.

“There’s really nothing to be concerned about any longer,” she said. “No one that was involved in that is currently here anymore. We have made changes.” Christy Nipper, the new elections supervisor in Coffee County, says new equipment, new staff and a new elections office space are some of the steps taken to move past the 2021 data theft. Stephen Fowler/GPB

Those changes include new election equipment, replaced by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last year after an investigation found illegal access of the secure election equipment took place. There’s new staff, like Nipper, who stepped in after Hampton’s resignation a month after the breach and endured months of national scrutiny.

There’s even a new office space with a bigger window for people to legally watch the election processes unfold, after the old building where the data theft took place was demolished (for reasons unrelated to the election scandal).

In many ways, it’s almost like the controversy never happened.

Around Coffee County, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, there has been little public attention paid to the breach, the criminal charges or the guilty pleas that are trickling in.

“No one around here would have ever thought this would happen in Coffee County,” retired teacher Judi Worrell said. “These kind of things happen in the big cities. You read about this in the newspaper and then when you read that it’s happening outside your front door, it brings it home very quickly, and it’s very disturbing.”

Sitting at a coffee shop, Worrell is one of just a handful of residents who have shared lingering concerns about the breach at public meetings. Retired teacher Judi Worrell is one of just a few Coffee County residents who express public concerns over the 2021 election data theft and how it was handled. Stephen Fowler/GPB

Coffee County has about 44,000 residents — most of them Republicans — and with a small-town atmosphere, Worrell said some people don’t want to talk about bad things that involve friends, family or neighbors.

“I don’t think there’s very many that are really, truly interested in it or are aware of the depth of it, really,” she said. “And I think some people just don’t want to know for whatever reason.”

Even with new machines and new staff, Worrell worries that there won’t be enough accountability ahead of the next presidential election in 2024.

“A lot of people want to say, ‘Well, they’re handling it in Atlanta; they’ll take care of it,’” she said. “And I guess to some point that is true. But my idea of looking at it is we need to take care of our own.”

While the residents of Coffee County might not be following every twist and turn with the racketeering indictments playing out in an Atlanta courtroom, there have been major developments affecting the case. Hall and Powell, two key outside players in facilitating the election data theft, have taken plea deals from prosecutors, admitting they interfered with Coffee County’s 2020 election. The former supervisor, Misty Hampton, is still among 16 others awaiting trial, along with former Coffee County GOP Chair Cathy Latham, who is accused of participating in the copying scheme but also faces charges for being a fake elector.

This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GPB a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.

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