When President Donald Trump’s campaign launched a legal challenge this month to distort Georgia’s election results, Atlanta Democrat Bee Nguyen found a way to crush claims that thousands of fraudulent ballots had been cast.
After receiving a list of voters allegedly outside the state, she checked public records, provided birth dates, called and visited people to verify their identity.
She found that at least 128 names on the list – more than 10 percent – were due to residents of Georgia who legally voted. At a recent State House hearing, she confronted the Trump-centric data analyst who compiled the list. A 12-minute video of their presentation was widely circulated and covered by the mainstream media.
“It was important that I spoke to the voters myself,” said Nguyen. She said Georgia’s long history of voter suppression makes unsubstantiated claims of mass fraud “extremely dangerous.” (After a recount, Georgia confirmed Joe Biden as the state winner.)
Nguyen, 39, describes herself as a member of the New South, an emerging coalition of younger progressive Black, Latin American and Asian Americans who turned Georgia, a former Republican stronghold, into a battlefield state. Since becoming the first Vietnamese-American woman to be elected to the legislature three years ago and taking a seat in the House of Representatives from former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams, she has been an outspoken advocate of the right to vote, especially for racist minorities and immigrants, which Republican voters support for a long time aimed at suppressive tactics.
Now with two runoff elections in the Senate, Nguyen is cautiously optimistic that Asian Americans and Pacific islanders, who helped turn the state from red to blue in November, can once again offer the Democrats the profit margin. If Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both win on January 5th, the Democrats will take control of the Senate.
“There is still a lot of energy in Georgia,” she said, noting that the early voting results are keeping up with those of the general election. “But in many households AAPI people are not prepared to be part of the political process or to understand how to be part of it.”
Although it is growing rapidly, the Asian-American community in the south is still learning to steer the political process. The sophisticated grassroots efforts that resulted in a record number of AAPI voters in the November election, such as B. Telephone banking in the language and relational organization did not begin to mature until the last election cycles.
Given the tight time frame leading up to the runoff elections, Nguyen said, organizers had to be more selective in their mobilization strategies. Instead of devoting resources to converting indecisive and conservative voters, they have focused on mobilizing registered Democrats who have already voted for Biden. In mid-December, Nguyen tweeted a list of voters in her district whose postal ballot papers were rejected for missing or mismatched signatures, and urged her supporters to alert people so that the errors could be fixed before the runoff elections. She hosted a screen in her home on Tuesday.
“We know that there is always a turnout game in runoff elections,” she said. “It’s a turnout game with people we know will be on our side.”
Nguyen, a daughter of refugees, said her upbringing had a major impact on her activism and politics. Her parents relocated to Iowa after the Vietnam War, and the trauma of the conflict gave them a deep distrust of the government. Her father, who was imprisoned for three years during the war, wanted to lead a quiet life in the US and stay out of politics as much as possible.
“It shaped my view of what empowerment means for my family,” she said. “It was important to me that I found a space in which I can support other people who do not feel they have a voice at the table.”
In her late 20s, Nguyen founded the Atlanta-based nonprofit Athena’s Warehouse, which supplies used prom dresses to low-income high school students. As she built the organization, she saw a divide between the laws that politicians passed and the needs of their voters. When Abrams left her seat to campaign for the governor in August 2017, she ran and won, becoming only the second Asian-American Democrat in Georgia’s legislature.
By the end of her first term, Nguyen had helped campaigns halt the closure of several electoral districts in South Georgia and largely repealed an onerous voter registration law that frozen 53,000 applications during the 2018 midterm elections.
Asian Americans make up 2.5 percent of Georgian voters, doubling their percentage from four years ago. During that time, the number of Asian-American representatives in local government has grown from one to six. (In November, Nguyen won unopposed re-election.)
Stronger political representation, Nguyen said, could trigger a “shift in understanding” about the special needs of Asian voters. One of the more pressing problems is expanding language access for restricted English speakers so that they can receive translations of election papers and emergency messages in good time during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like many other AAPI activists and politicians in Georgia, Nguyen Abrams credits his black and Latin American neighbors with being the first nationwide politician to recognize Asian Americans as an important contingent of the emerging New South. (After applying for office, Nguyen was a Senior Fellow with Abrams’ voting rights organization Fair Fight Action.) During her gubernatorial bid, Abrams invested in multilingual public relations for the group and received 78 percent of their votes.
“Now we are in an area where people are realizing that there are enough AAPI voters to influence the elections if we are invited to be part of this broad-based coalition,” said Nguyen.
CORRECTION (Dec 31, 2020, 11:30 a.m. ET): In an earlier version of this article, the Bee Nguyen distinction was incorrectly stated in Georgian law. She is the second Asian American, not the second Asian American.