Bee Nguyen said she watched with alarm as the lies began trickling in about alleged widespread voter fraud in Georgia after the 2020 election. What the Democratic state representative heard behind closed doors from Republican lawmakers, she said, was different from what they said publicly.
They sowed doubt, she said, even as they privately “admitted that they didn’t believe the election was stolen, but went along with everything that was being facilitated in Georgia and across the country.”
Nguyen challenged those false assertions, including at a highly publicized legislative meeting late last year about election results. One day after polls closed on a pair of close U.S. Senate races in Georgia that gave Democrats control of the chamber, the January 6 insurrection became a physical manifestation of the flawed fears of a rigged election. Soon, Georgia’s Republican-led legislature was introducing bills with a host of changes to the state’s election system.
Not all made it into law, but lawmakers ultimately passed legislation that restricted absentee voting, added new voter identification requirements and limited drop boxes. Nguyen said she was most troubled by new oversight of local election administration that voting experts said would add partisanship to the process.
“The bill that they passed was not just about making it harder for people to vote, but it was about being able to open the door for the subversion of democracy,” she said.
Nguyen is now running, along with a handful of other Democrats, for the party’s nomination to be Georgia’s secretary of state — a once low-profile elections administration job that has been propelled to key race status in the state’s midterms next year. Also on the ballot will be the race for governor, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is seeking the party’s nomination after leading a nationwide effort to get people access to the ballot. A high-profile Senate race features incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock.
The three races, against the backdrop of baseless attacks by former President Donald Trump on election integrity and nationwide voting restrictions, effectively places Georgia at the center of the country’s 2022 midterm elections. While Warnock’s reelection bid could mean the difference for Democratic control in a deeply divided chamber, it’s Nguyen’s and Abrams’ campaigns that solidify Georgia’s standing in the fight for voting rights next year.
“We all understood that everybody would still have their eyes on Georgia with Sen. Warnock being back on the ballot in 2022,” Nguyen told The 19th. “But now with the addition of Stacey, I think it creates even more excitement and mobilization across our state.”
The increasingly purple state, which has had massive population growth due in part to people of color, nearly put Abrams in the governor’s mansion when she first ran in 2018. Abrams accused her opponent, Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s secretary of state and now its Republican governor, of unfair tactics that led to her loss. He denied those allegations.
As governor, Kemp refused to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results and signed new voting restrictions into law. Next year could be a rematch for the two though that has yet to be determined; Kemp has lost Trump’s backing and now faces a primary challenge from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who has said he would not have certified Georgia’s 2020 election results. The Republican primary for secretary of state is expected to include a supporter of Trump who has claimed inaccurately that the 2020 election was rigged.
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, isn’t surprised that voting is shaping up to be such a defining topic for candidates next year.
“It is an issue that will determine whether we have a reflective democracy or if we have a plutocracy. It is the single most critical issue because it is the fundamental foundation of having a democratic system,” she said. “If we don’t have a democratic system, every other issue that we care about is actually at stake and is vulnerable.”
At the forefront of this fight are women of color, who are also running for key elective seats in other parts of the country with a focus on voting rights. Several U.S. Senate seats — including in Florida and North Carolina — could help determine which party controls the chamber and future policy discussions about federal voting legislation.
The secretary of state office is expected to get new attention in 2022, as Trump has already backed a handful of candidates seeking the job. At least 27 elections for secretary of state are scheduled next year, with many of them focused on oversight of elections. But it’s the offices in battleground states that could have the most outsized role.