Georgia’s intense primary election season officially goes into overtime later this month.
Several Black candidates for statewide offices have a chance to make history in November after earning enough votes on Primary Day to enter runoff races against their opponents.
Only two Black candidates have ever been elected to statewide office in Georgia, even though African Americans make up 32% of the state’s population.
Michael Thurmond and Thurbert Baker won statewide races in 1998. Thurmond became the state’s first Black labor commissioner that year. An appointment by then-Gov. Zell Miller made Baker the state’s first Black attorney general in 1997. Georgia voters re-elected Baker a year later. He went on to serve as attorney general until 2011, when he retired from the position after launching a failed bid for governor.
Last year, Raphael Warnock became the first Black person to win a U.S. Senate race in Georgia, but Warnock serves at the federal level, not the state level.
In November 2018, Robyn Crittenden became the first Black woman to serve as secretary of state, acting on an interim basis in place of former Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who had just won his first bid for governor. But Crittenden was appointed by Kemp, not elected.
Georgia law requires winning candidates to receive more than 50% of votes in an election to avoid a runoff. Primary contenders competing in races for three key statewide offices failed to reach that threshold.
The top two vote recipients in each of those primary races must now compete in runoffs as a result. Runoff elections for both Democrats and Republicans will take place on June 21, but voters can cast their ballots early at their designated polling locations.
Early voting for this year’s runoff must begin no later than June 13, according to the secretary of state’s office, though a spokesperson said some counties may start the process sooner based on how quickly they certify their election results and make race preparations.
Here are three crucial runoff races for Black voters and candidates:
Secretary of State
Front-runner Bee Nguyen and former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler were the top two Democratic vote recipients on Primary Day more than a week ago.
Nguyen received 44.32% of Democratic primary votes on May 24. Dawkins-Haigler came in a distant second with 18.67% of votes received. She would become Georgia’s first elected Black secretary of state if she wins in November.
The secretary of state is in charge of managing elections at the state level. He or she is also responsible for tracking annual corporate filings, issuing professional licenses, and overseeing the state’s securities market.
Nguyen is the 40-year-old state representative from Atlanta who became the first Vietnamese-American woman to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly in December 2017 after a special election took place to fill the seat left vacant by former state Rep. Stacey Abrams, who launched her first bid for governor at the time.
Nguyen was also the only non-Black candidate who competed for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state this election cycle.
Dawkins-Haigler was one of four Black candidates competing in the race. The 52-year-old minister at First St. Paul AME Church in Lithonia tossed her hat into the ring in the wake of the Republican-led effort to enact SB 202 and other so-called election integrity laws.
Dawkins-Haigler and Nguyen have campaigned on a platform of protecting Georgians’ right to vote and ensuring their access to the ballot box. Both candidates have committed to training local election board staffers.
Nguyen wants to use technology to promote voter education, according to her campaign website. She’s secured key endorsements from Abrams, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, and State Rep. Dewey McClain.
Whoever wins this race will take on incumbent GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in November.
Kwanza Hall received the lion’s share of votes in the Democratic primary contest for lieutenant governor, with 30.15%. Hall would be the first Black person to serve as lieutenant governor if he wins in November.
Charlie Bailey came in a distant second with 17.62% of votes cast.
The lieutenant governor’s role is similar to that of the U.S. vice president. The office holder is the second in command to Georgia’s governor and the president of the state Senate. He or she works with lawmakers and lobbyists to get key legislation introduced and passed.
Bailey is a former attorney general candidate who Democratic Party leaders asked to run for lieutenant governor this election cycle. He has campaigned on expanding Medicaid, maximizing school funding, and giving raises to teachers and police officers throughout the state.
Hall is an Atlanta native and the son Leon W. Hall, an acolyte of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In late 2020, the younger Hall was appointed to fill the 5th District U.S. congressional seat held by civil rights legend John Lewis after his death that year.
Hall also served in Atlanta City Council for 15 years, representing District 2. He ran a failed campaign to become mayor of Atlanta in 2017. In February of this year, he launched his bid for lieutenant governor.
One of Hall’s policy proposals is to pass a state law to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Atlanta City Council passed a similar law in 2020.
Hall has campaigned on protecting teachers and education from anti-critical race theory Republicans who he says are “attacking history.”
The 51-year-old father of two is also well-aware of the glass ceiling he would break if he wins this race. After announcing his bid for office on the “Frank Ski Show with Nina Brown” in February, Hall pointed out Georgia’s lieutenant governor position has only been around since 1945.
“Since that time, there have been 12 [lieutenant governors] and none of them look like us,” Hall said. “I plan to be the first lieutenant governor named Kwanza.”
Whoever wins this race will take on GOP nominee Burt Jones in November.
Current state Rep. William Boddie Jr. is the narrow favorite to win the Democratic nomination after securing 27.66% of votes cast in the race. If he wins, he will become just the second Black person to serve as labor commissioner in Georgia.
Former local TV news reporter and EducationDynamics executive Nicole Horn came in a close second with 25.11% of the vote.
Whoever wins this race will take on state Sen. Bruce Thompson in November.
The state labor commissioner leads the Georgia Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing the state’s workforce regulations, managing its unemployment insurance and rehabilitation programs, and generating state employee market statistics and research.
The state DOL also works with partners in the public and private sector to promote economic prosperity, in part, by creating quality, well-paying jobs, something many Black Georgians need right now.
Boddie has campaigned on revamping the state’s unemployment insurance claims system to improve processing and payment time and opening additional career centers throughout the state, especially in rural areas.
Georgia currently has only 42 career centers operating across 159 counties, according to Boddie’s campaign website.
“With the population growth, it is simply not enough Career Centers throughout the state to adequately address the needs of Georgia Workers,” Boddie’s campaign site states. “Georgians who reside in some rural areas may not have access to broadband internet, which is a significant disadvantage when filing unemployment insurance claims and trying to access online services of the Georgia Department of Labor website. Unfortunately, with a low number of Career Centers serving multiple counties, many Rural Georgia Workers have to drive long distances to these facilities.”
Horn, a former executive with EducationDynamics, also wants to improve the way unemployment checks are distributed by using newer technology and beefing department staffing, according to her campaign website.
The married mother of three who once worked as a Waffle House waitress would create mobile career centers in addition to stationary ones to provide adequate servicers to parts of the state with limited career center resources.
Horn also has campaigned on tackling systemic discrimination in Georgia businesses. She points out Black women in the state are paid 61 cents on the dollar when compared with non-Hispanic white men.
“Inequality destabilizes our economy and hurts the middle class,” Horn says on her campaign website. “As the leader of Georgia’s Department of Labor, I will work with our General Assembly to expand Georgia’s Fair Employment Practices Act so it covers all government agencies, and private businesses.”