Democrat Nguyen launches campaign for Georgia’s top election official

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat from Atlanta, launched her campaign Tuesday for secretary of state in next year's election. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat from Atlanta, launched her campaign Tuesday for secretary of state in next year's election. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen launched a campaign Tuesday to become Georgia’s next top election official, promising to expand voting rights in a state where a battle over ballot access has only intensified with recent Republican defeats.

The Atlanta lawmaker would be the first Asian American elected to a statewide political office in Georgia history if she flips the seat held by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who gained national attention for refusing Donald Trump’s demands to overturn his loss of the state in November’s presidential race.

Nguyen said she would “ensure that all Georgians have the right to participate in our democracy and for Georgia to lead the country on voting rights — not on voter suppression.” Under her watch, she added, the office would “prioritize accessibility, efficiency and equity.”

Her campaign, long expected by local Democrats, further transforms a contest that in some past Georgia election cycles was hardly an afterthought — and is now poised to be one of the nation’s most-watched down-ballot elections.

Raffensperger has faced tremendous backlash from his party’s base for denying Trump’s plea to “find” enough votes to reverse his defeat and debunking a string of the former president’s lies claiming Georgia’s election was tainted by widespread voting fraud.

Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has faced heavy criticism within the state GOP after he rejected Donald Trump's pleas to overturn the results in November's presidential election. More than a dozen county GOP groups have recently passed resolutions calling for his resignation. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has faced heavy criticism within the state GOP after he rejected Donald Trump's pleas to overturn the results in November's presidential election. More than a dozen county GOP groups have recently passed resolutions calling for his resignation. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Seeking revenge, Trump has repeatedly pledged to wield his immense influence in the Georgia GOP to personally campaign against Raffensperger and has endorsed U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a loyalist with a long history of promoting the former president’s falsehoods about the election system.

Nguyen and other state Democrats, meanwhile, have pledged payback of their own after the passage of a Republican-backed election law that imposes new restrictions on voting, including ID requirements for mail-in ballots and more limits on the availability of drop boxes.

The rewrite was motivated in part by Trump’s false claims about last year’s election results, when Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential contender to win Georgia since 1992. Election officials have said repeatedly there’s no evidence of widespread fraud in those contests, and three separate tallies upheld Biden’s win.

Seeking history

Nguyen’s entrance further squeezes Raffensperger, who must now contend with sustained criticism from a prominent Democratic challenger as well as unrelenting broadsides from opponents and critics within his own party.

Illustrating his challenge, more than a dozen county GOP groups passed resolutions at meetings across the state last month demanding that Raffensperger resign.

He has refused those calls and pledged to stay in the race, banking that he can rehabilitate his image with conservatives by next year and leverage a fractured GOP opposition. Two other Republicans, former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and ex-Treutlen County Probate Judge T.J. Hudson, are also mounting challenges.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has former President Donald Trump's backing in Georgia's contest for secretary of state.
U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has former President Donald Trump's backing in Georgia's contest for secretary of state.

On the other side of the political ledger, Nguyen hopes to quickly consolidate Democratic support and avoid a nasty primary. But it’s still uncertain whether she’ll clear the field, and other Democrats have floated possible campaigns for the seat.

The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen grew up in Augusta and founded a nonprofit called Athena’s Warehouse before she won the east Atlanta-based House seat vacated by Stacey Abrams in 2017 as she ran for governor.

Nguyen — whose last name is pronounced “win” — became only the second Asian American Democrat in the Statehouse— and quickly established herself as a voting rights advocate.

She helped marshal Democratic efforts to roll back an “exact match” registration that sparked controversy in the 2018 midterm elections. And her skewering of a false pro-Trump claim of numerous “illegal votes” advanced by operative Matt Braynard during a December legislative hearing went viral. Over a 12-minute interaction, she showed how calls, simple online searches and visits to the homes of Georgians on a list of purportedly fraudulent voters proved they were legitimate.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, quickly established herself as a voting rights advocate when she became the second Asian American Democrat elected to the General Assembly. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, quickly established herself as a voting rights advocate when she became the second Asian American Democrat elected to the General Assembly. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

More recently, Nguyen and other Asian American and Pacific Islander lawmakers emerged as a voice for their communities after a white gunman shot to death eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at three metro Atlanta spas. When Biden came to Atlanta in March to console grieving members of the community, Nguyen was one of a handful of leaders who met privately with him to share the concerns of the Asian American community.

If Nguyen is elected, she would become only the second Asian American to win statewide office — and the first to win a political post. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carla Wong McMillian became the first Asian American to win statewide in 2014 when she was elected to the appellate bench.

Nguyen said she would use her platform to advocate for more robust training of poll workers and demand the rollback of new voting restrictions that she said are aimed squarely at punishing Democrats for victories in November’s presidential race and January’s U.S. Senate runoffs.

“Republicans have done everything in their power to silence the voices of voters who chose an America who works for all of us, not just some of us,” Nguyen said. “But we will not allow anyone to stand in the way of our right to a free and fair democracy.”

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