The Georgia General Assembly, in the 2021 legislative session, gave itself new powers over the operation of local Election Boards and at the same time began using local legislation to change the composition of those Boards.
These two changes, Bee Nguyen said during the Oconee County Democratic Party January meeting, represent a threat to democracy in the state and country.
While the legislature also weakened the role of the Secretary of State, Nguyen said, that office remains important in safeguarding elections in the state.
For that reason, Nguyen said, she is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Secretary of State in the May 24 primary.
Nguyen didn’t mention any of the other four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the nearly 45 minutes she met virtually with local Democrats.
Rather, she focused her attention on Congressman Jody Hice, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is challenging incumbent Brad Raffensperger in the Republican Primary for Secretary of State.
Nguyen pointed out that Hice was one of the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against certifying the election results even after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“We have to win this seat,” Nguyen said. “Without winning this seat, we’re going to be in a really tough place for a long time.”
Nguyen, 40, whose name is pronounced "win," began her comments to the virtual meeting on Jan. 20 with a self-introduction.
Nguyen said her father was sent to a “reeducation camp” for three years after the fall of Vietnam to communist rule in 1975.
“They lost some of the things we hold most sacred, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom to assemble, the right to free and fair elections,” she said of her parents after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam.
Nguyen said her father and his family were able to leave the country “in the middle of night on a boat” and resettle in Ames, Iowa, in 1979, where Nguyen was born.
She credits then President Jimmy Carter with making that move possible.
In June of 1979, President Carter announced that the U.S. would increase the number of Indochinese refugees it accepted as part of a commitment to increase the aid to the boat people from the area.
Nguyen’s family moved from Iowa to Augusta, when she was seven, she said, and she experienced a “typical immigrant household upbringing.”
“My parents said, you better study hard, you better make good grades, you better stay out of trouble,” she said. “They really believed that education was the key to getting out of poverty. And that indeed proved true for my family.”
University And General Assembly
Nguyen said her parents “had a very narrow vision of what they considered success to be. They said I had to be a doctor or a lawyer, and then they said at the very worst I could be a pharmacist or an engineer.”
Instead Nguyen went to Georgia State University to earn a degree in English.
She later created her own nonprofit, Athena’s Warehouse, where she served as executive director for 10 years, working in Atlanta and DeKalb public schools.
In 2007, when Stacey Abrams stepped down from her seat in the Georgia House of Representatives to run for governor, Nguyen ran for and was elected in a special election to represent House District 89.
District 89 is entirely in DeKalb County and includes parts of the city of Atlanta. (About 10 percent of Atlanta is in DeKalb, with the remaining 90 percent in Fulton County.)
“It is not easy serving in the minority party in the legislature,” Nguyen said. “The majority of our time we spend combating and pushing back against bad legislation. Occasionally we are able to do a little bit of good.”
Fought Exact Match
In 2018, then Secretary of State and now Gov. Brian Kemp implemented an exact match system for voter records.
If the information entered on the voter registration form did not match precisely the individual’s state driver’s license and social security records, the voting record was declared “pending” until there was an exact match.
The discrepancy could be the omission of a hyphen or the shortening of a name, such as from Thomas to Tom.
Nguyen said that 53,000 voters had their registration “frozen because of a clerical error, because of a misspelled name. And it was 80 percent voters of color--Black, Asian ,and Latino.
“I knew that was something I wanted to work on because I have a last name that is often misspelled,” Nguyen said. “The General Assembly actually misspelled my name on the statehouse web site in three different places in three different ways when I was elected.”
“We were able to overturn that law in the 2019 legislative session,” Nguyen said, “but the reality is that these laws work exactly as they are intended to work.
“And every year that I have served in the legislature there has been a bill of some kind introduced to make it harder for Georgians to vote,” she continued.
“But everything changed in 2020,” Nguyen said. “I had a front row seat to this.
“Early on, in 2020, when we understood the conditions of the pandemic, and when we understood that Democrats would be using absentee ballot voting for the first time in larger numbers than Republicans,” Nguyen said, “my colleagues, they started a coordinated effort to sow seeds of doubt about the security of vote by mail.
“The no excuse, no ID, vote-by-mail laws were passed by Republicans and used more widely by them every single year leading up to 2020,” Nguyen said.
In 2005, when Republicans gained control of state government, they passed House Bill 244 that added a photo ID requirement for in-person voting and allowed for voting by mail without a voter having to state a reason and without an ID.
“In 2020, it was the first year they questioned the validity of voting by mail,” Nguyen said. “I knew that was so they could sow seeds of doubt and then set us up for challenging the results of the 2020 election. That is exactly what happened.”
Challenge To 2020 Presidential Election Results
When the Georgia House held a Committee meeting to hear the challenges to the 2020 Presidential election results, Nguyen said “I was told maybe you should consider sitting this one out.”
Nguyen said her colleagues were “worried about your safety because not only are you a woman but you are an Asian woman.”
“But I knew that this was bigger than me,” Nguyen said. “It was bigger than the state of Georgia. It was about our entire country as a whole.
“I made sure that I did my work to discredit Trump’s expert witness in real time,” she said. “And sure enough, as soon as I was done questioning him, my address was released on a right-wing gun site.
“I received the usual harassment that I receive as a lawmaker, but in addition to that, there were threats, death threats, and I had to make a safety plan,” she continued.
“And I thought how in the world am I in this position where I am using truth and facts, and now I’m having to make a safety plan,” Nguyen said.
“And I recognized it wasn’t just happening to me,” she said. “It was happening to elected officials all across the country and to our election workers, who are just trying to do their jobs in a pandemic.”
Jan. 6 And Legislative Session
“I thought, after Jan. 6, my colleagues on the other side of the isle would have some deep internal reflections about the direction that they were heading,” Nguyen said.
“But instead, we went into legislative session and we did not have conversations about how we were going to expand Medicaid and give half a million Georgians access to health care during a pandemic,” she said.
“We did not talk about the fact that our kids have been learning virtually for a year and they were preparing to go back into school,” Nguyen continued.
“We did not talk about the fact that the Department of Labor still does not answer calls from my constituents, who have lost their jobs and sometimes their cars and sometimes their homes,” she said.
“We focused–or they focused–on one thing and one thing only,” Nguyen said. “And that was passing Senate Bill 202.”
Senate Bill 202
Nguyen said the Senate Bill does “criminalize” handing out water, shorten the time for requesting and receiving absentee ballots, and reduce the use of secure drop boxes.
“All of those things are true,” she said. “But what it also did was it opened the door for the subversion of democracy.
“It allows our state legislature, a partisan legislature, to take over a county election board, which is supposed to function as an independent arm.
“And I know you all know our election boards are critical,” Nguyen said. “They decide early voting hours, early voting locations.
“But here’s also what’s important,” she said. “If you remember the Jan. 5 runoff, a conservative group from Texas called True The Vote, they came into Georgia, they went to our local election boards, and they challenged the voter eligibility of over 460,000 voters across our state.
“And it was up to local election boards to make the decision as to whether or not they would remove voters from the roll,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen did not mention this, but in December of 2020 the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration unanimously turned down a challenge by local Republican Pat Daugherty, on behalf of True the Vote, of the right of 1,450 Oconee County voters to participate in the Jan. 5, 2021, Senate runoff.
Senate Bill 202 gives Oconee County’s legislators, Sen. Bill Cowsert and either Rep. Marcus Wiedower or Rep. Houston Gaines, all Republicans, the ability to request a performance review by the State Elections Board of the work of Rebecca Anglin, director of Elections and Registration in Oconee County.
Importance of Secretary Of State
Nguyen said in the upcoming elections Republicans are targeting swing states such as Georgia “and recruiting Secretary of State candidates who openly want to overturn the will of the people or reject the results of the 2020 election.
“You all very well know Congressman Jody Hice is one of those people who voted to invalidate the results of the 2020 election and continues to campaign on the Big Lie,” she said.
Hice also objected in Congress to certification of Georgia’s election results, but no vote was taken on that objection because neither of Georgia’s two Senators would support it.
“If they install just one of those candidates in the Secretary of State seat such as Jody Hice in Georgia, and he refuses to certify the result of the election in 2024, we could very well be the deciding state for the presidential election,” she continued.
“The Secretary of State seat is one way in which we can safeguard our democracy,” Nguyen said. “It is a necessary seat that we have to take here in Georgia.”
“When we win this seat, we have a lot of work to do," Nguyen said. "But without winning this seat, we’re going to be in a really tough place for a long time.”
Senate Bill 202 weakens the Secretary of State by removing her or him as chairperson of the State Election Board and replacing the Secretary of State–elected directly by the voters–with a chairperson elected by the General Assembly.
Responding To Questions
Nguyen spoke for a little less than 20 minutes and then took questions from the more than 25 people on the Zoom session.
She said she is paying attention to legislation in the current session that would “restrict what educators are able to teach in school,” reduce restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon, prohibit transgender girls from playing sports, and banning books in libraries.
She said that if she is elected Secretary of State she would “ensure that the Corporations Division (of the Secretary of State Office) is accessible to entrepreneurs, to people who are going on and trying to figure out how to create their small businesses.”
She said she would initiate regional training for entrepreneurs, upgrade the consumer protection division of the office, and review the licensing activities of the office to provide more flexibility.
She said she would launch regional training to help entrepreneurs know how to leverage capital.
On the election side, she said “Number one is investing in all 159 election boards ensuring that they are adequately trained and also that they have the adequate resources and materials to be able to run elections efficiently.”
She also said she would invest in language translation, voter education, and voter outreach.
Nguyen said she would “build a division that solely focuses on cyber security, election disinformation, and foreign interference with our election system.”
“Election disinformation is one of the biggest threats we are facing,” she said. “It is designed to tear us apart. It is designed for communities to be torn apart.
“I would create a division that monitors election disinformation and that has a plan in place to brief all 159 local election boards on how to mitigate these threats,” she continued.
Nguyen said an important issue in the 2022 elections “that has been overlooked is reconstitution of local election boards.”
Local election board are “intended to have some sort of semblance of a balance of power,” she said.
Oconee County’s Board of Election and Registration has a representative of the Republic Party, a representative of the Democrat Party, and three members appointed by the Boards of Commissioners.
One of the three appointed by the Board of Commissioners is the Director of Elections and Registration.
The composition of these election boards is controlled by what is called local legislation passed by the General Assembly.
Nguyen said the General Assembly passed local legislation last year that gave the Morgan County Board of Commissioners the ability to replace all five members of the sitting Board, which had consisted of two members from each party and a single member appointed by the Board of Commissioners.
One of the members of the Board of Commissioners, a Democrat, had objected to the change, but the legislative delegation for Morgan County acted without unanimous support.
“It has kind of gone unnoticed because it is harder for the public to understand and because Senate Bill 202 overshadowed a lot of those things,” Nguyen said of the use of local legislation to change election boards.
“I think that is something that is going to impact the way that elections are administered in 2022,” she said.
According to Ballotpedia, four other Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination for Secretary of State.
They are John Eaves, the former chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Floyd Griffin, former mayor of Milledgeville, Michael Owens, a program manager with Cisco Systems from Marbleton, in Cobb County, and Manswell Peterson, a former police officer from Albany.
Brenda Nelson-Porter is running as a non-partisan. She has a consulting and research firm in Newnan in Coweta County.
The Republican candidates, in addition to Hice and Raffensperger, are David Belle Isle, and Torri Hudson.
Belle Isle is the former mayor of Alpharetta. Hudson is a former Probate and Magistrate Judge in Treutlen County, which lies between Macon and Savannah.
I recorded the video below from the Zoom session.
Nguyen began speaking at 2:12 in the video and ended her comments after questions at 45:50 in the video.
I would like to cover Oconee County Republican Party meetings, but Oconee County Republicans do not meet virtually and will not allow me to arrange to video record party meetings.
When someone has given me audio recordings of those meetings, I have reported on them.
I do not attend meetings in person on the strong advice of my doctor.