Georgia State Rep. Bee Nguyen is not one to back down from a fight, especially when it involves exposing dishonesty.
The lawmaker’s fact-checking finesse last year discounted claims by former President Trump’s legal team — headed by former New York Mayor Rudy Guilliani — that thousands of illegal ballots were cast in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election. Nguyen’s deft dissection of Team Trump’s claims of fraud drew national attention — and death threats.
The 12-minute exchange proved to be a crystallizing moment for Nguyen, who made history when she took over Stacey Abrams’ seat in the statehouse in 2017. She was Georgia’s first Vietnamese-American state representative.
“I was able to take down Trump’s legal team,” Nguyen told Atlanta Civic Circle of last year’s hearing. “I was met with death threats and recognized that it wasn’t just me. It was elected officials across our country who were standing up for truth and facts, as well as our election workers. And [I] thought ‘How did we get to this place and what do we need to do to move forward from there?’ ”
Nguyen wants to be Georgia’s next Secretary of State.
Atlanta Civic Circle talked to the Atlanta resident about her plans if she’s elected, Georgia’s new election reform law, and the law’s pending impact on the future role of Georgia’s chief elections officer.
Q. Why are you running for Secretary of State?
A. I’ve been involved with voting rights since I’ve been elected from a legislative standpoint, but I’ve also done hundreds of hours of voter protection work, and I recognize, being in the midst of this fight, that we need, now more than ever, a secretary of state who can safeguard our democracy and stand up against the misinformation and lies but also support voter expansion. The secretary of state’s position is a critical office, and part of what we need to do in order to protect the right to vote for Georgians.
Q. If elected, what would be your top priorities?
A.There is a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of Georgians, not just through the elections division, but all the other divisions, as well. One of the priorities would be tackling some of the challenges that we have as it pertains to elections. Part of that is making sure the Secretary of State is working collaboratively with all 159 counties at providing adequate training and adequate resources to hold efficient elections in all of our counties. So building that relationship and doing the training will help every single county, and ensuring counties have the resources to adequately run the election, especially with the passage of Senate Bill 202. I would also say there is an opportunity for us to really think about how the Secretary of State’s office can meet voters where they are. One thing that is missing from our Secretary of State’s office is translating information into other languages. We are a diverse population in Georgia, and that diversity is important, not just because these are voters and citizens, but also, when we think about the business angle, making sure that we have resources to be able to translate things into other languages, including the application to vote by mail. Then I think it’s really important to look at our licensure division, and identify the barriers that prohibit people from being able to obtain a license so that they can be a contributor to the workforce, while also prioritizing the public safety angle and making sure that we are doing everything we can on public health and consumer protection.
Q. The new Georgia Election Integrity law appears to reduce a lot of the authority of the Secretary of State’s office. It also appears to give more power to state lawmakers to intervene in local elections. What are your thoughts about this?
A. It is one of the most dangerous provisions. The ability of the state to take over local election boards that are supposed to be bipartisan in nature. Obviously, we are going to have to continue to litigate what is going on. The secretary of state needs to be able to work collaboratively with the state board of elections so that we have a balance of power that doesn’t enable the legislature to just use Senate Bill 202, as part of a power grab.
Q. The current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is calling for Fulton election officials to be removed. Should the Secretary of State intervene in such matters? Is he making the right call?
A. He’s absolutely not making the right call. The state has had ample opportunity to work with Fulton County over the past four years that he has served as Secretary of State. If he was serious about making improvements to the local elections board, he would have come to the table to work in tandem with them, not throw them under the bus as he’s continually done over the past four years, Quite frankly as a sitting lawmaker, I worked with my local elections board in DeKalb County so that we could make improvements. So the opportunities have been there and he has neglected to take that up, So to watch him support this investigation after the Secretary of State’s office had an independent observer that found no evidence of voter fraud, both in the November election, and the January runoff election just shows me that he is just playing into partisan politics and using his office to do that which is irresponsible to voters.
Q. What should the Secretary of State’s role be in local elections?
A. He should have a collaborative nature. He is the chief elections officer. If he felt Fulton County was not performing in a manner that he’d like them to perform, why not come to the table and make sure that he can work collaboratively with them on the issues that he wanted to see differently. He has not done that.
Q. Is the voting process fair and accurate in Georgia?
A. We have a free and fair election in Georgia. We held one of the most secure elections in the history of our state. There’s no evidence of voter fraud. So what we do need to do is make sure that we have a voting policy on the table that is expansive to voters.
We need a Secretary of State who is going to embrace a voter expansion policy and not get behind Senate Bill 202 which is predicated on lies.
Q. There’s been a constant refrain that a lot of the rules and changes that have been made were done to try to restore voter confidence in the election process. What needs to be done to restore voter confidence?
A. The reason why some voters don’t have confidence in the election process is because Republicans in Georgia and across the country decided they would act in a coordinated manner to sow seeds of doubt as it pertains to the election. We have no issues with absentee ballot voting in the state of Georgia and Republicans passed the law that allows no excuses.
Q. What are your thoughts about the new election reform law? Is it needed?
A. No, again, we have no evidence of voter fraud. It is not necessary in the state of Georgia. They are the ones responsible for the lack of confidence as it pertains to their own voters. So what they need to do is tell the truth.
Q. If you become Secretary of State, how would you work within this new law? Or do you find it constricting for the Secretary of State’s role?
A. It is constricting. It requires us to challenge this through litigation. It requires us to change the makeup of the General Assembly so that we can repeal a law such as this. It requires the federal Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote. Certainly the Secretary of State’s office is important in this, but I want to be clear, the Secretary of State’s office cannot alone fix what’s happening with Senate Bill 202. However, there are certain provisions the Secretary of State’s office can help with. One of those examples is under Senate Bill 202. The local election board can no longer apply for private grant funding, which helps them hire more election workers, helps them get more machines to run efficient elections, and the Secretary of State can certainly help on the resource side. This bill also increases the amount of money that local election boards have to spend for elections. That is an area in which the Secretary of State can help on the financial fiscal side
Nguyen is running against former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, and incumbent Raffensperger. The election is on Nov. 8, 2022.
What are some questions you have for the candidates? Send your queries to Democracy reporter Tammy Joyner.