When Lawrence Sloan took a temporary job in the Fulton County elections department, he didn’t expect to be blamed falsely — by a portion of the country — for rigging the presidential contest.
But that’s what happened earlier this month in the days after Election Day when a 30-second video of Sloan spread rapidly on the internet.
It all happened while workers in Fulton County, including Sloan, hurried to open envelopes and scan mail-in ballots that looked like they might determine who would be the next president.
Racist, threatening comments appeared on social media posts about the video of Sloan, while supporters of President Donald Trump protested in the streets outside Fulton County’s mail-in ballot processing operation.
Sloan, who is Black, was scared for his safety and ran away. He deleted his social media accounts, changed his appearance and went into hiding for three nights.
The episode illustrates an added layer of pressure on election workers and officials in 2020.
Georgia’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, received death threats, according to The Washington Post, and other election officials around the country have also been threatened this year.
The 2020 election cycle was Sloan’s first time working an election.
“As soon as they called me about the opportunity, I was like, ‘Sweet’,” Sloan said in an interview. “I get paid. I get to help democracy. That’s the most American thing. That’s gonna be awesome, you know.”
Sloan’s main job was operating one of the county’s machines that slices open the envelopes with mail-in ballots inside. Election workers call them “cutters.” He liked the job because it reminded him of Tetris, a video game that combines problem-solving and good reflexes.
Sloan said he was one of the fastest operators. Just by listening to the sounds a machine was making, he could tell if it was working properly.
In the video, Sloan is sitting at one of the machines. There’s an unnamed, invisible narrator in the video who makes false claims about what Sloan is doing.
“This dude has a fit about something, flips off a ballot and then crumples it up,” the narrator said. “If that’s not voter fraud, I don’t know what is.”
In the video, Sloan is sitting down, he reaches into the machine for something, and then he flinches back. He does indeed flip his middle finger and start talking. Then he crumples up a piece of paper and throws it aside.
Sloan was asked to watch the video and explain what actually happened. He said the cutter had been running for hours and it wasn’t working fine all the time. In this case, it hadn’t sliced open an envelope properly. He reached into the machine to make sure the ballot wasn’t damaged, and when he did, a conveyor belt tweaked his hand.
“I flipped off the machine,” Sloan said. Then he started talking to it: “You used to be cool man. We used to do good work. Now, I’m tired too. Everybody in here is tired, but you need to quit with this [expletive]. You’re the only one in here eating fingers.”
The paper Sloan threw aside wasn’t a ballot. It was instructions for how to complete a mail-in ballot.
The video of Sloan was retweeted by the president’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. It drew 5 million views on Twitter. Commenters said Sloan should be identified and arrested. They called him “homeless” and “mentally ill.”
Fulton County was opening envelopes and scanning mail-in ballots at State Farm Arena. Soon after Sloan first saw the video and the comments on Instagram, he stepped outside for a break, and that’s when he saw Trump supporters gathered for a protest.
“Even if it’s not about me, I’m standing outside, and they know what I look like,” Sloan remembered. “Every second that goes by, more people are going to see this. Me just being here is automatically just not the best.”
Sloan was scared so he left.
He stayed with friends, changed his appearance and only went home after three nights.
Sloan said he thinks telling his story will change the minds of just four people out of 1 million who believe he was throwing away a ballot, but at least it will help him move on with his life. And Sloan said it will help put the whole alarming episode behind him.