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‘It’s an American issue’: can Georgia’s candidate for secretary of state save democracy? | Georgia

Georgia state consultant Bee Nguyen has appeared destined to wage epic battles in her fast-changing state ever since changing Stacey Abrams in its legislature 4 years in the past when the now-nationally-recognized Democrat introduced her first bid for governor.

Or perhaps it’s since former president and Georgia native Jimmy Carter determined, greater than 40 years in the past, to double the quantity of refugees admitted to the US from Vietnam – together with her mother and father. Nguyen was born in Iowa, however has lived in Georgia since her mother and father moved right here when she was seven.

Now, occasions of current months have made it clearer than ever what’s at stake for Nguyen in her subsequent bid: changing into Georgia’s secretary of state, accountable for overseeing elections and different duties in a state that appears set to be on the middle of 2022’s midterm elections and likewise a key battleground within the 2024 presidential race.

Since changing into the primary Asian American girl in Georgia’s legislature, she has led her get together’s battle in opposition to Republican-backed restrictions on voting. Now, if she turns into her get together’s nominee for secretary of state, her concepts might show important to constructing election integrity and restoring voter confidence in Georgia, and by instance, elsewhere in America at a second when US democracy itself appears in peril.

She might have simply acquired a lift final week when Abrams introduced her intentions to run for governor once more. If profitable, Abrams would turn out to be the nation’s first Black girl governor. Having Abrams on the poll ought to “mobilize sources and get individuals conscious of the seriousness” of the midterm elections subsequent 12 months, stated Adrienne Jones, political science professor at Morehouse Faculty. Having Abrams in workplace might present a backstop to defending elections in Georgia as effectively, Nguyen stated. “We’d like Stacey Abrams to veto additional erosion of voting rights,” she stated – particularly if federal voting rights laws isn’t handed.

Nonetheless, the challenges Nguyen faces embody Georgia being one of three states the place Donald Trump has endorsed Republican candidates for secretary of state who imagine the 2020 election was “stolen”, together with Arizona and Michigan. The plan is to assist elect election directors who will make it troublesome for Trump to lose in 2024. The previous president has already visited Georgia to stump for present member of Congress Jody Hice, who’s hoping to oust incumbent Brad Raffensperger – the identical official who taped Trump’s 2 January telephone name, through which the previous president requested the present secretary of state to seek out “11,780 votes”. Fulton county district Lawyer Fani Willis is main an investigation to find out if Trump dedicated against the law in that decision and different efforts to vary final 12 months’s election outcomes.

These occasions, together with persevering with threats in opposition to Georgia election officers and ballot employees, have made Georgia emblematic of the chaos surrounding voting and elections within the US. The ensuing state of affairs has given the once-overlooked workplace of secretary of state new significance, Nguyen stated.

In that context, “We’re not taking a look at this as a Georgia challenge,” she stated. “It’s an American challenge.”

Georgia state representative Bee Nguyen speaks at a Stop Asian Hate march and rally in Atlanta on 20 March 2021.
Georgia state consultant Bee Nguyen speaks at a Cease Asian Hate march and rally in Atlanta on 20 March 2021. {Photograph}: John Arthur Brown/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

On the similar time, the challenges for Georgia’s subsequent secretary of state aren’t restricted to overseeing elections in a state the place thousands and thousands of voters nonetheless imagine the 2020 election was stolen. And even checking out the impacts of the state’s new election legislation, which permits the Republican-controlled legislature to take over native election boards, and is the topic of a handful of lawsuits alleging that the legislation makes it tougher for hundreds to vote.

If elected, Nguyen may also must face the truth that Georgia had already been fighting election cybersecurity issues earlier than 2020, leading to a federal decide ordering former secretary of state and now governor Brian Kemp to scrap the whole state’s system – a historic first. Then the legislature ignored prime cybersecurity specialists and purchased one other susceptible system – first used statewide in final 12 months’s election. There’s additionally a 2018 US Fee on Civil Rights report that rated Georgia among the many nation’s worst for violating the rights of voters.

In opposition to this backdrop, Nguyen has adopted a clear-eyed, sensible method to her marketing campaign. Reached by telephone after returning to Atlanta from conferences with group teams in coastal Georgia, she mentions a question she received concerning the Republican-controlled state legislature certifying elections underneath the brand new legislation. “I stated, there’s nothing we can do about that. The secretary of state’s workplace is a safeguard to democracy – but it surely’s not a silver bullet.”

Speaking transparently with the general public, combating disinformation, and evaluating previous elections for successes and failures are all key to defending elections, stated John S Cusick, counsel on the NAACP Authorized Protection and Schooling Fund, a plaintiff in a single of the suits in opposition to Georgia’s new legislation. “Whereas there are limitations, there are additionally alternatives,” he stated.

Nguyen has a number of concepts to “assist offset” the brand new legislation, in addition to restore voter confidence.

They embody constructing cybersecurity experience into the secretary of state’s workplace, she stated. “What I envision is hiring top-notch safety specialists,” she stated. Their duties would come with monitoring threats to the election system, in addition to disinformation and conspiracies on-line, and speaking with the state’s 159 counties and their election officers in actual time.

As a legislator, Nguyen voted in opposition to the present $100-plus million computerized elections system, chosen regardless of prime cybersecurity specialists recommending that the state use hand-marked paper ballots, as in lots of different states.

This determination is what Richard DeMillo, chairman of Georgia Tech’s Faculty of Cybersecurity and Privateness, calls the “unique sin” underlying Georgia’s present state of affairs. “They denied the bottom reality … that these are opaque methods with vulnerabilities,” he stated. “That is unbiased of whether or not the [2020] election was hacked, of which there isn’t a widespread proof.”

Nonetheless, scrapping the whole system now would imply that Republican legislators “must admit they made an error”, stated Nguyen. Her plan would at the very least make cybersecurity half of the central perform of the secretary of state’s workplace, a primary. She hopes to pay for it with federal funds.

Different concepts embody speaking by mail, textual content and electronic mail with registered voters when attempting to keep up rolls present, as an alternative of utilizing solely mail after which “purging” voters from the rolls after they don’t reply.

“The state must be doing every little thing they can to inform voters,” she stated – together with about modifications reminiscent of new deadlines for requesting absentee ballots or new polling places. Additionally, she would make extra info on voting out there in languages apart from English – a follow nonetheless controversial in Georgia. And, she want to set up computerized kiosks in grocery shops positioned in areas with spotty Web entry, to allow voters to do every little thing from updating registrations to sending in absentee ballots.

As for election employees – the traditionally nameless and now more and more threatened key to operating elections – “what I’ve witnessed as a member of the Authorities Affairs Committee [of the legislature] is that the secretary of state isn’t appearing as a collaborative associate” with native election boards, Nguyen stated. She needs to vary that, bettering coaching, and, she hopes, utilizing federal funds to assist counties get hold of the tools they should keep away from such points as lengthy traces resulting from a scarcity of voting machines.

Though Nguyen permits that some of these concepts could appear “unsexy”, she says they’re “essential items to safeguard democracy. It’s like, ‘Right here’s what we can do.’”

One factor that Nguyen acknowledges as essential to run for secretary of state within the post-Trump period is a private safety plan.

As an Asian-American girl within the public eye, she has turn out to be accustomed to bigotry; she famous that somebody had posted on Twitter a number of days earlier than we spoke, “Return to your shit-hole nation.” However “earlier than final 12 months, there was basic harassment,” she stated. “Now it’s extra loss of life threats.”

Late final 12 months, Nguyen personally contacted voters from a listing Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s staff had compiled, after the Large Lie promoter alleged they’d voted fraudulently. Nguyen proved the accusation to be unsuitable. Video of her testimony was broadly seen. The loss of life threats elevated. She contacted legislation enforcement officers; they suggested that she take away private info from the Web as a lot as doable. “I requested members of the family to lock down their social media accounts,” she added. Police drove by her home.

The state of affairs is just not with out irony for Nguyen. “I’ve a body of reference from my mother and father,” she stated. “They noticed a loss of civil liberties. My Dad was imprisoned by the federal government for three years. They’ve stated to me that they by no means believed they might lose their nation. I’m very involved – we’re dealing with threats, disinformation, individuals actively attempting to dismantle democracy. I imagine we’ve a restricted time to redirect ourselves.”

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