Democrats in runoff for Georgia election job debate voting rights

Former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, left, and Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen participate in Georgia's secretary of state Democratic primary election runoff debate Monday in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

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Former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, left, and Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen participate in Georgia's secretary of state Democratic primary election runoff debate Monday in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Nguyen and Dawkins-Haigler criticize Republicans more than each other

The Democrats battling in a runoff for Georgia secretary of state, Dee Dawkins-Haigler and Bee Nguyen, each tried to show during a debate Monday that she is the one who can best defend voting rights.

Both candidates united in their criticism of Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during the debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and aired by Georgia Public Broadcasting. The winner of the June 21 Democratic runoff will face Raffensperger in the November general election.

The race will determine who will become Georgia’s top election official in a highly competitive state, responsible for overseeing fair elections, setting voter registration policies and investigating problems.

Nguyen said that even though Raffensperger upheld the state’s election results and stood up to Donald Trump’s demand to “find” more votes to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, his campaign rhetoric is misleading voters.

“He’s running his campaign based on conspiracy theories, including the alleged idea that noncitizens are voting, which is not true, and the alleged idea that Georgians are ballot harvesting, which is not true,” said Nguyen, a state representative from Atlanta. “As secretary of state, I would uphold the law. I would use facts and truths.”

Dawkins-Haigler also attacked Raffensperger, calling his proposal to station police security at 2,000 polling places “nothing but another form of voter intimidation.”

“As the descendant of slaves coming to a country where we didn’t even have the rights, it is now incumbent upon us to continue to make sure that every single Georgian, no matter their race or ethnicity, has that right, knowing that Republicans will continue to change the goal posts and the rules,” said Dawkins-Haigler, who was a state representative until she made an unsuccessful run for the state Senate in 2016.

Nguyen said she gained experience in the Georgia House fighting election disinformation. Nguyen said she pored over voter lists to confirm that voters were eligible, debunking claims by a data analyst after he testified to a Republican-led committee in the wake of the 2020 election.

“We were facing a concerted effort by Georgia Republicans based on lies and conspiracy theories to try and undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election,” Nguyen said. “It did not stop me from going back into the General Assembly in 2021 and fighting against Senate Bill 202, as well as our other voter suppression laws in the state of Georgia.”

Dawkins-Haigler said the only reason Raffensperger didn’t cave to Trump over the 2020 election is that he felt he had to defend Georgia’s new voting equipment that his office purchased. All in-person Georgia voters now cast ballots on touchscreens that then print out paper ballots.

Despite a federal warning last week about vulnerabilities in touchscreens manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, Dawkins-Haigler said Raffensperger is unwilling to abandon them. Both candidates said they support switching Georgia to paper ballots filled out by hand.

“Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger continues to uphold that story because he is trying to maintain power, and power never concedes power without a demand,” Dawkins-Haigler said.

The two Democrats have to compete in a runoff because neither received more than 50% of the vote in last month’s primary.

Raffensperger already won his primary, receiving 52% of the vote and defeating U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, who was endorsed by Trump.