Democrats vie for chance at Georgia chief elections job in runoff

Nguyen and Dawkins-Haigler run on voter protections
Five Democrats running for Georgia secretary of state participated in a debate by the Atlanta Press Club on Monday, May 2, 2022. From left: Dee Dawkins-Haigler, John Eaves, Floyd Griffin, Bee Nguyen and Michael Owens.

Credit: Atlanta Press Club

Credit: Atlanta Press Club

Five Democrats running for Georgia secretary of state participated in a debate by the Atlanta Press Club on Monday, May 2, 2022. From left: Dee Dawkins-Haigler, John Eaves, Floyd Griffin, Bee Nguyen and Michael Owens.

The two remaining Democrats in a race to become Georgia’s next top elections official are looking ahead to the general election as well as the runoff.

Their emphasis: Which candidate has the best shot of beating Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in November?

State Rep. Bee Nguyen says she proved herself in the General Assembly when she debunked a data analyst’s claims of illegal voting during a live-streamed hearing after the 2020 election. Nguyen pored over voting lists and visited voters to confirm they were actually living at their registered addresses.

Her opponent, former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, says she has the political and business experience needed to fight for voting rights.

Democratic Party voters in the June 21 runoff will decide on their nominee to challenge Raffensperger and fill out a ticket led by Stacey Abrams, who is running against Gov. Brian Kemp. Nguyen received the most votes in last month’s primary, 44%, but fell short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff in the five-candidate race.

“This election is about moving the secretary of state’s office to the side of the people. It’s about combating voter suppression efforts,” said Nguyen, who has represented an Atlanta state House district since 2017. “If I were to be elected, I would focus resources on voter expansion, not having the fraud task force that the current secretary of state put in place.”

Dawkins-Haigler said she would protect Georgia’s elections from Republican efforts to influence the outcome.

Though Raffensperger refused Donald Trump’s request to “find” additional votes, Dawkins-Haigler said voters should remember the 2000 presidential election, when Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris halted recounts and certified a Republican slate of electors for George W. Bush.

“We know that secretaries of state have the ability to almost be able to determine elections,” Dawkins-Haigler said. “That person also has the ability to put up blockades and barriers. You have to have a political will to want to do right, to see that everyone votes regardless of political party or affiliation.”

Raffensperger won the Republican nomination without a runoff by collecting 52% of the GOP primary vote, defeating Trump-endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and two other opponents.

If elected, Nguyen said she would display voting information and deadlines more prominently on the secretary of state’s website, create a division to fight disinformation, increase cybersecurity, defend automatic voter registration and curtail voter registration cancellations of infrequent voters.

“It’s about having the experience of going head-to-head with Brad Raffensperger and taking down Trump’s team, even in the face of death threats” after election hearings in December 2020, Nguyen said. “I’ve been tried and tested, and I never turned back. I always stood up.”

Dawkins-Haigler said if she becomes secretary of state, she wants to mail sample ballots to all Georgians before elections and distribute information about polling place locations and hours. She said she has the administrative and leadership experience needed for the job based on her work as a business consultant and associate pastor at her church.

“You have to have someone in place who understands the historical significance of voting and why the Voting Rights Act came about,” said Dawkins-Haigler, who represented a Lithonia state House district until an unsuccessful run for the state Senate in 2016. “Yet in 2022, we’re still facing some of those same hurdles as we’ve seen in Senate Bill 202,” the Georgia voting law passed last year.

Both candidates tout their endorsements.

Nguyen is endorsed by prominent Democrats including Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, while Dawkins-Haigler earned the backing of all three Democrats who didn’t advance from the primary to the runoff: former Cobb County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Owens, former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and former Milledgeville Mayor Floyd Griffin.