After succeeding Stacey Abrams in representing Georgia House District 89 in the Georgia General Assembly, Rep. Bee Nguyen — in her run for secretary of state — has the opportunity this November to make history as the first Asian American woman to ever hold statewide elected office in the Peach State.
Centering her campaign around voting rights and democracy, Nguyen serves as a stark contrast to her opponent, current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). Most known for refusing to help former President Donald Trump “find” 11,780 votes in the aftermath of the 2020 election, Raffensperger has also been a vocal defender of the state’s omnibus voter suppression bill, Senate Bill 202.
In Democracy Docket’s latest candidate Q&A for the 2022 cycle, Georgia secretary of state candidate Bee Nguyen lays out the most concerning provisions of S.B. 202, explains why she thinks the “Big Lie” has become rampant in Georgia and speculates what she might have been doing if she wasn’t running for office.
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
How do you plan to use your position as secretary of state to protect the right to vote in Georgia?
My priorities would be investing in ensuring that our local election boards are well funded, [they] have the resources that they need and that we provide the type of training that’s necessary so that they can run free, fair and efficient elections in all 159 counties. I would also invest heavily on the voter education and voter outreach side, given that the laws are fast changing and many voters don’t know exactly how to follow the new laws and make sure that they can cast their ballots and that they are counted.
And then, something that is not talked about as much is how the secretary of state addresses litigation. For example, currently we have been in this battle for our Public Service Commission. We, in Georgia, use an at-large form of voting for the Public Service Commission. And a Trump-appointed judge just found that it violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act and dilutes the power of Black voters. Our current secretary of state appealed that lawsuit, instead of using it as an opportunity to ensure that we can run free and fair elections. So my priority is making sure that we remove barriers to the ballot box and that we are running equitable elections across the board.
Enacted in 2021, S.B. 202 is in effect — for the first time — in this year’s 2022 midterms. As we look to November, which provisions of this law concern you the most?
I’m concerned about the new processes for the vote by mail system. Voters in Georgia can no longer request applications online; they must now print [the applications] out and have a wet signature, meaning a pen and paper signature. And the timeframe has been reduced in terms of when you can request an absentee ballot and when you can receive an absentee ballot. We saw in the 2021 municipal elections that the rate of rejection has increased on the application side and it has also increased on the ballot side itself. That’s certainly going to have implications on how voters show up at the polls in 2022.
Then there’s the new provision of having to vote in your precinct on Election Day. Previously in Georgia, if you were in the correct county and in the wrong precinct, you could still vote provisionally and that ballot would be cured at the end of the night and counted. For example, in 2020, I was a poll monitor in Fulton County at a precinct that had been open for early voting for three weeks, and people thought that they could show up on Election Day to vote at that particular precinct. Over half of the voters who showed up that day — 300 voters — were in the right county, but wrong precinct. They were able to vote by provisional ballot and those ballots were counted at the end of the night. That is no longer the case under S.B. 202.
We’re looking at voters who may not be able to go to the correct precinct if they have limited time or limited transportation, and that is certainly going to have an implication on these more populous counties where it can be confusing to find your polling precinct.
Then there’s a provision on the secure drop boxes. We saw the number of drop boxes drastically reduced under S.B. 202. They’re no longer available outdoors 24/7 a day, they’ve been moved indoors and they’re only available during the hours of early voting, which will prohibit voters who have to work during the day from dropping their ballots off in the drop boxes. We also know from statistics that those drop boxes actually reduced the number of ballots that were rejected because they arrived too late in the mail system. Now that the drop boxes are no longer available after early voting is over, this means that on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before an election, [voters] cannot use a secure drop box anymore. Certainly we’ll see ballots get rejected because they are sent through the postal system and don’t arrive on time.
One of the most egregious provisions in S.B. 202 is the line-warming ban that blocks volunteers from handing out food and water to voters waiting in line. On Aug. 18, a federal judge ruled that this provision is probably unconstitutional, but allowed it to remain in place for this year’s elections. What effect, if any, do you think this decision will have on this year’s elections?
During the 2020 election cycle, we had voters in Georgia wait in line for four hours, six hours, eight hours, up to 11 hours just to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Part of what we saw was not just the third-party, nonpartisan groups order pizza, bring water and bring snacks, [but] we also saw a lot of neighbors, small businesses and restaurant owners come out and make sure that people were fed while they were waiting in line.
This idea that it’s been used as a political tool is patently false. We also know that the areas in which Georgians had to wait in line for long periods of time were mostly in majority-Black precincts, mostly in metro Atlanta, where there’s a high number of Democratic voters. This idea that somebody has to wait in line that long altogether is a reflection of how our current secretary of state has not done his job.
The provision around making it a crime to hand out a bottle of water to vote or waiting in line is just illogical in nature. We have no evidence that it has been used to influence the results of an election or to persuade a voter to vote for one candidate or another candidate. What we have to do on our side of the aisle is make sure that we get the message across to Georgians that they should vote early and they should vote in person, and that will help reduce some of the pressure that we’ve seen on Election Day in the past.
The secretary of state’s office is critical in certifying election results, a historically routine practice that has been politicized and misrepresented due to the “Big Lie.” Why do you think counties across the country have refused to certify election results and what do you make of this trend?
We see that the Republican Party both on the state and national level coordinated their talking points around the security of their 2020 elections, including attacking the validity of absentee ballot voting. Their efforts to uplift conspiracy theories and lies, including allowing somebody like [Rudy] Giuliani to come into our state Legislature, has led people to believe that the election was stolen.
Had Republicans decided on the front end that they were not going to lie to their constituencies, we would not be in this place today. The people who have been radicalized are radicalized because of the leadership of the Republican Party both at the state and the national level. What we see is people both inside the election system and outside of the election system actually think that they are doing the right things as Americans, and that’s dangerous in nature.
We have seen what has happened in Coffee County with Sidney Powell and the local election board in Coffee County. We know that there was potentially some malfeasance, some copying of data within Coffee County elections. Today, over a year after that incident has been flagged, nobody has been held accountable for that. [The situation is] unclear because the secretary of state has been very quiet on this issue and not transparent with the public whether or not an investigation was actually carried out. We need bad actors to be held accountable because if they are not held accountable for breaching the system for committing a crime, then we will continue to see that kind of behavior.
Ultimately, we cannot have any elected officials who continue to perpetuate the “Big Lie” or continue to pass legislation predicated on the “Big Lie” or who continue to endorse legislation like S.B. 202, which was born of those same lies and conspiracy theories. Many of those lies and conspiracy theories are what are now laws. We have to have people who will outright reject all of those things.
After your opponent, Raffensperger, refused Trump’s request to “find” 11,780 Georgian votes, he — along with people like Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) — have been lionized, especially in light of the Jan. 6 hearings. What do you say to people, especially Democrats, who are now praising these politicians?
When an elected official takes the oath of office and swears allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the bare minimum of what is required of us is to follow the law. The bar should not be that low for Georgians or for Americans. While I was one of the many Georgians who breathed a sigh of relief that the secretary of state didn’t find those extra 11,780 votes, what the secretary of state did in the aftermath is anti-democratic. The secretary of state in the aftermath endorsed S.B. 202 and is currently running on S.B. 202. He is [also] currently running on other policies that are based on lies and conspiracy theories, including this alleged idea that noncitizens are voting and this alleged idea that Georgians are ballot harvesting. He has gone as far to say that some of his priorities are things like eliminating automatic voter registration, which is a policy that was implemented under Republican control.
I believe that we can do much better in Georgia. It’s not about defending democracy one moment in time. It’s about defending democracy every single day of the week. We have a secretary of state who is comfortable putting his thumb on the scale on the front end to endorse laws that make it harder for people to show up and to influence who is able to participate in an election. Putting your thumb on the scale on the front end is voter suppression, it is voter intimidation and it is not a good representative of the office itself. We should have a secretary of state who’s interested in making sure that every eligible Georgian is able to access the ballot box without barriers.
This November, Georgia has the opportunity to elect you as the first Asian American woman to hold elected office statewide and Stacey Abrams as the first Black woman governor nationwide. With the blue wave Georgia experienced last cycle by electing President Joe Biden and Sens. Raphael Warnock (D) and Jon Ossoff (D), what do you think this means for Democrats in Georgia and for both of your history-making elections?
I think that Georgia is a place where people didn’t quite envision that we were going to turn blue in 2020 and continue that effort in 2021. When we deliver these historic wins for Georgia, it reflects what happens when Georgians come together from every part of the state based on shared ideology. In this particular election year, we are coming together on this belief that we should be one Georgia: A Georgia where people should not have to die if they don’t have access to health insurance; a Georgia where we are investing in our public school system; a Georgia where we believe that women should be protected in their choices about their bodies and a Georgia where we protect the sacred most fundamental right to vote at the ballot box. I think this reflects the strength of Georgia and it is a reflection of the new South that we are building where every person is valued and heard and we can come together as one state.
Favorite way to vote?
I love voting with my sisters. They live in my district, but we are in different precincts, so that means we have to vote early in person in order to vote together. That’s been a tradition that we’ve been carrying out the past few election cycles is voting early in person together.
If you weren’t running for office, what would you be doing?
Well, probably sleeping more.
If I weren’t running for office, I imagine I would be doing the same thing I was doing in 2018, which was organizing for Stacey Abrams and making sure that my district showed out in greater numbers than we had ever showed up before. In 2018, my house was a field location for Stacey Abrams and we knocked 30,000 doors in this district. And we had the highest number of raw votes cast for Georgia Democrats out of every single district in the state of Georgia. So I imagine I would be organizing for our ticket, as well as probably doing some fun things, including maybe a vacation or two.
Go-to walk up song?
There are some lyrics: All we do is win win win. We’ve been using that song.
Most underrated fact about Georgia?
Georgia is an incredibly diverse state and every part of Georgia is interesting and fun. I just finished a trip to south Georgia, and we have all of these really beautiful downtowns throughout the state of Georgia. There are a lot of small businesses that make these downtowns thrive. I think that Georgia is underrated in general because we’ve got so much interesting history in our state, and we are a very diverse state. And people do not think of that when they think of the South or when they think of Georgia.