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2022 Midterms

How Bee Nguyen Plans to Protect Black Voting Rights

The Democratic nominee for secretary of state in Georgia says she’s ready for an "uphill battle."

Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen (center) celebrates in Atlanta after winning the June 21 runoff election to be the Democratic nominee for Georgia secretary of state. (Ben Gray/Associated Press)

Bee Nguyen, the Democratic nominee for Georgia secretary of state, is fighting an uphill battle in her matchup against GOP incumbent Brad Raffensperger, but she remains optimistic she can win.

It’s been 15 years since a Democrat held the role. Raffensperger, who was elected in 2018, has received some bipartisan praise and additional support from Democrats for not caving to Donald Trump when the former president pressured him to “find” the votes Trump needed to win Georgia in 2020.

But the state’s top elections official has also argued in favor of Georgia Republicans enacting a series of so-called election integrity laws, including SB 202, that critics contend were designed to suppress Black voter turnout.

Raffensperger’s predecessor as secretary of state, current GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, faced heavy criticism and at least one lawsuit after removing at least 700,000 names from the state’s voter registration rolls during Kemp’s first gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

“We have to recognize the current conditions that we’re facing and that if we don’t take action, then we are going to face worse conditions,” Nguyen told Capital B Atlanta.

Nguyen is the 40-year-old state representative from Atlanta who secured her party’s nomination in June after a runoff race victory over Dee Dawkins-Haigler.

She’s also the first Vietnamese American person to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly, and became Stacey Abrams’ successor in the state House in 2017 after Abrams launched her first bid for governor.

Nguyen recently sat down with Capital B Atlanta to discuss what she plans to do to ensure voting rights are protected in Georgia if she’s elected in November.

[The following Q&A conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.]

Capital B Atlanta: What’s your pitch to Black voters this election cycle? Why should they support you?

Bee Nguyen: When it comes to protecting the fundamental right to vote, I am the only candidate in the secretary of state race who believes protecting the freedom to vote is crucial to the health of our democracy.

Our current secretary of state, in his four-year tenure, has continued to erode the right to vote and support voter restriction laws that are targeted to make it harder for Black and brown people to vote in the state of Georgia. And when we look at the strength built, the coalitions that we have built for Black voters, we know and we understand that what Brad Raffensperger has been trying to do is dilute the power of Black voters. 

What specifically are some of the policies you support that will benefit Black Georgians? 

One is investing in our local election boards so that they are able to have the resources and equipment they need to run free, fair, and efficient elections.

That means they will have the ability to support a line, so people aren’t waiting hours in line like they have traditionally in the state of Georgia, where we know people have had to wait up to 11 hours.

It also means ensuring that our local election boards are equipped and trained properly so that voters are not disenfranchised at the polls. That also means that we put into place a plan and a mechanism to support our election workers who have been harassed and threatened under what has occurred in the past few years.

And certainly making sure that our local election boards have a partner at the table who is going to support them and not throw them under the bus.

The second key component is wide voter education and outreach programs where Black voters and other voters will have access to critical information so that they know exactly where to go. They know all of these new, complicated deadlines that are intended to make it harder for people to vote, and they know exactly what steps they need to take in order for them to access the ballot box and make sure that their vote counts.

I would also say that something very important is making sure that we focus on the workforce elements of the secretary of state’s office, particularly when it comes to minority businesses and entrepreneurs.

Roughly 33% of Georgia’s population — a major portion of Democratic voters in the state — are Black. Why are you the best candidate to represent them, and why is it important for you to fight for them?

Being Asian American in Georgia, that’s distinctly different from being a Black American in Georgia. I did learn at an early age though, through the experiences of my parents, that our civil liberties are not guaranteed.

My dad was a prisoner of war in what they call reeducation camps, incarcerated for three years by his government.

I also learned early on that whatever it was I was going to do with my life, I was committed to fighting for civil liberties and justice, not just for my community, but for the Black community and for other marginalized communities. 

Though our experiences are not the same, I recognize that a system of oppression is designed to pull down everybody who is not a white man. And so being a Georgian, I also was able to grow up in a place where the Civil Rights Movement has been important and historic and that the leaders who came before us empowered us to continue their legacies.

How do you beat Brad Raffensperger? 

One of the [keys to victory] is overcoming this narrative that Brad Raffensperger is a hero because he didn’t commit treason, and ensuring that I’m talking to Georgians about his record. … 

As a state lawmaker, I also understand that the bills that have been passed in the last few years, including SB 202, are intended to chip away at the margins. They are intended to target Black voters. They’re intended to target Democratic voters. They’re intended to target the counties that are more populous.

Certainly I recognize and understand that this is an uphill battle in the state of Georgia, but we also understand that Georgians have always had to out-organize these voter suppression laws that are on the books. And it’s no different this year in 2022. 

There has been some challenge to the voter suppression narrative with the early voting numbers. Black turnout so far is up this election cycle when compared to previous ones. What are your thoughts on that? 

I would say that voter turnout is not an accurate measure of whether or not voter suppression exists. What we know is voters had to change their voting behavior. And that meant that voters who would have preferred to vote by mail instead went out and voted early and voted in person. 

That was part of the organizing infrastructure at work where the message that we and other organizations sent to Georgia voters was, “You must vote early, and you must vote in person.”

The fact that Georgians had to change their voting behavior is an indication that the voting restrictions around absentee ballot voting actually worked.