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Georgia launches SMS alert system to notify officials of threats in polls

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When thousands of polling stations in Georgia open their polling stations on Election Day, they will be equipped with a new tool designed to help protect them: an SMS alert system to report any threats at their polling stations.

The Office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger created the incident reporting tool in response to threats against polling station members during and after the 2020 election.

Gabriel Sterling, a top official at the State Department, said the goal is to provide district administrators and state officials with “real-time intelligence” from each of the state’s 159 counties.

“We’re putting this in the hands of the poll managers and election directors so that 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 each district to text a special five-digit number and report any threats or concerning activity taking place at their polling stations.

That information will then be sent to both the provincial election offices and the Secretary of State’s election department during the early voting period and to the Secretary of State’s “war room” — a command center where law enforcement and other officials congregate — that will be set up on Election Day.

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

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

The new system comes after Georgia saw unprecedented threats to election workers after the 2020 presidential election. A notable case in Fulton County involved election officials Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, who testified before the Jan. 6 commission that they were “in hiding” after election lies told distributed by Trump associates led to repeated threats.

Richard Barron, who led the 2020 Fulton County election, told NBC News in April that the threats his office received led to record sales.

“The stress just wore people out,” Barron said earlier this year.

Sterling said they need to strike a delicate balance between vigilance and not paying too much attention to the possibility of threats.

“The problem is that if you shine too much light on it, you invite extra people,” Sterling said. “You have to be aware of it, but you can’t prepare for it. Because that’s when you scare and scare people.”

“The most important thing is that voting should always continue,” he added. “Nothing stands in the way of voting.”


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