When Lawrence Sloan took a temporary position in the Fulton County’s electoral department, he hadn’t expected to be falsely accused of manipulating the presidential competition from any part of the country.
But that’s exactly what happened in the days after Election Day earlier this month, when a 30-second video of Sloan quickly spread across the internet.
It all happened while workers in Fulton County, including Sloan, rushed to open envelopes and scan postal ballots that looked like they were going to determine who would be the next president.
Racist, threatening comments appeared on social media posts about Sloan’s video as President Donald Trump supporters protested in the streets in front of Fulton County’s correspondence.
Sloan, who is black, was afraid for his safety and ran away. He deleted his social media accounts, changed his appearance, and went into hiding for three nights.
The episode shows additional pressure on election workers and civil servants in 2020.
Georgia’s top electoral officer, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, received death threats, according to The Washington Post, and other electoral officials across the country were also threatened earlier this year.
The 2020 election cycle marked the first time Sloan had voted.
“As soon as they called me about the opportunity, I said ‘Sweet’,” Sloan said in an interview. “I’m getting paid. I can help democracy. That’s the most American thing. This is going to be great, you know?”
Sloan’s main job was to operate one of the county’s machines that cut open envelopes containing postal ballot papers. Election workers call them “cutters”. He liked the job because it was reminiscent of Tetris, a video game that combines problem-solving and good reflexes.
Sloan said he was one of the fastest operators. Only by hearing the noises a machine was making could he tell if it was working properly.
In the video, Sloan is sitting at one of the machines. There is an unnamed, invisible narrator in the video who makes false claims about what Sloan is doing.
“This guy has a fit of something, rolls a ballot and then wrinkles it,” the narrator said. “If that’s not election fraud, I don’t know what it is.”
In the video, Sloan sits down, reaches for something in the machine, and then flinches. He actually twists his middle finger and starts talking. Then he crumples a piece of paper and tosses it aside.
Sloan was asked to watch the video and explain what actually happened. He said the cutter ran for hours and didn’t always work well. In this case, it hadn’t cut an envelope properly. He reached into the machine to make sure the ballot was not damaged, and as he did so, a conveyor belt pinched his hand.
“I turned the machine off,” Sloan said. Then he started talking to him: “You were a cool man once. We did a good job. Now I’m tired too. Everyone here is tired, but you have to stop [expletive]. You’re the only one here who eats your finger. “
The newspaper Sloan tossed aside wasn’t a ballot. These were instructions for completing a mail-in poll.
Sloan’s video was retweeted by the President’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. It attracted 5 million views on Twitter. Commentators said Sloan should be identified and arrested. They called him “homeless” and “mentally ill”.
Fulton County opened envelopes and scanned postal ballots at the State Farm Arena. Shortly after Sloan first saw the video and the comments on Instagram, he stepped outside for a break and saw Trump supporters gather in protest.
“Even if it’s not about me, I’m outside and you know what I look like,” Sloan recalled. “With every second that goes by, more people will see this. It is automatically not for the best if I’m just here. “
Sloan was scared and left.
He stayed with friends, changed his appearance, and didn’t go home for three nights.
Sloan said he thinks telling his story will change the minds of only four in 1 million people who believe he threw away a ballot, but at least it will help him get on with his life. And Sloan said it would help put the whole alarming episode behind you.