GBee Nguyen, the Georgia State representative, appears destined to wage epic battles in her fast-changing state since she replaced Stacey Abrams in his legislature four years ago when the now nationally recognized Democrat her first candidacy for the Announced office of governor.
Or maybe it’s because former President and native Georgian Jimmy Carter decided more than 40 years ago to double the number of refugees – including their parents – admitted to the US from Vietnam. Nguyen was born in Iowa but has lived in Georgia since her parents moved here when she was seven.
Now, the events of the past few months have shown more clearly than ever what is at stake for Nguyen in her next bid: to become Georgia’s Foreign Minister responsible for overseeing elections and other duties in a state that is at the center of the 2022 midterm elections seems to be standing and also an important battlefield in the 2024 presidential race.
Since becoming the first Asian-American woman in the Georgian legislature, she has led her party’s fight against Republican-backed election restrictions. Now if she becomes her party’s State Department candidate, her ideas could prove crucial in building electoral integrity and restoring voter confidence in Georgia and elsewhere in America, for example, at a time when US democracy itself seems in danger.
Maybe she just got a boost last week when Abrams announced her intention to run for governor again. If successful, Abrams would become the nation’s first black female governor. Having Abrams on the ballot should “mobilize resources and alert people to the seriousness of next year’s midterm elections,” said Adrienne Jones, professor of political science at Morehouse College. Having Abrams in office could also help protect the elections in Georgia, Nguyen said. “We need Stacey Abrams to veto any further erosion of voting rights,” she said – especially if federal voting law is not passed.
One of the challenges Nguyen faces, however, is that Georgia is one of three states, along with Arizona and Michigan, where Donald Trump has endorsed Republican foreign ministerial candidates who believe the 2020 elections have been “stolen”. The plan is to help elect election officers that will make it harder for Trump to lose in 2024. The former president has already visited Georgia to promote current Congressman Jody Hice, who is hoping to oust incumbent Brad Raffensperger – the same official who recorded Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call in which the former president was the current secretary of state asked to find “11,780 votes”. Fulton County’s District Attorney Fani Willis is leading an investigation to determine whether Trump committed a crime in that call and other efforts to change last year’s election results.
These events, along with the ongoing threats against Georgia’s election officials and election workers, have made Georgia a symbol of the chaos surrounding polls and elections in the US. The resulting situation has given new meaning to the once overlooked office of foreign minister, said Nguyen.
In this context, “we no longer consider this a Georgia issue,” she said. “It’s an American problem.”
Georgia state representative Bee Nguyen speaks at a Stop Asian Hate march and rally in Atlanta on March 20, 2021. Photo: John Arthur Brown / ZUMA Wire / REX / Shutterstock
At the same time, the challenges for Georgia’s next foreign minister are not limited to monitoring the elections in a state where millions of voters still believe the 2020 elections were stolen. Or even clarify the implications of the state’s new electoral law, which allows the Republican-controlled legislature to run local electoral boards, and is the subject of a handful of lawsuits alleging that the law makes it difficult for thousands to vote.
In the event of an election, Nguyen will also have to face the fact that Georgia was grappling with cybersecurity issues in elections before 2020, which resulted in a federal judge ordering former Secretary of State and current Governor Brian Kemp to abolish the entire state system – one historic premiere. Then lawmakers ignored leading cybersecurity experts and bought another vulnerable system that was first used nationwide in last year’s elections. There’s also a 2018 report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that ranked Georgia as one of the worst in the nation for violating voter rights.
With this in mind, Nguyen takes a clear, practical approach to her campaign. Reached by phone after returning to Atlanta from meeting with community groups in coastal Georgia, she mentioned a request she had received regarding the Republican-controlled state legislatures confirming elections under the new law. “I said there is nothing we can do about it. The office of foreign minister is a protection of democracy – but not a panacea. “
Communicating transparency with the public, tackling disinformation, and scoring past elections for successes and failures are all keys to protecting elections, said John S. Cusick, legal counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against Georgia’s new law. . “There are limits, but also opportunities,” he said.
Nguyen has a variety of ideas to “compensate” for the new law and restore voter confidence.
That includes building cybersecurity expertise in the foreign minister’s office, she said. “I envision hiring world class security professionals,” she said. Her duties include monitoring threats to the electoral system, disinformation and conspiracies online, and communicating with the 159 districts of the state and their electoral officials in real time.
As lawmaker, Nguyen voted against the current over $ 100 million worth of computerized voting system, which was elected despite leading cybersecurity experts recommending that the state use hand-signed paper ballots like many other states.
Richard DeMillo, chairman of the Georgia Tech School of Cybersecurity and Privacy, calls this decision the “original sin” underlying the current situation in Georgia. “They denied the basic truth … that these are opaque, vulnerable systems,” he said. “This is regardless of whether the  Wahl was hacked, for which there is no widespread evidence. “
Still, abolishing the entire system would mean that Republican lawmakers “would have to admit they made a mistake,” said Nguyen. Their plan would make cybersecurity a central function of the State Department, at least for the first time. She hopes to pay for it with federal funds.
Other ideas include communicating with registered voters by mail, SMS, and email when trying to keep lists up to date rather than just using email and then “deleting” voters from the electoral roll if they don’t respond.
“The state should do everything possible to inform the voters,” she said – also about changes such as new deadlines for applying for postal votes or new polling stations. It would also provide more information on voting in languages other than English – a practice that is still controversial in Georgia. And she wants to install computerized kiosks in grocery stores in areas with poor internet access so voters can do everything from updating their registrations to sending out postal ballots.
As for election workers – the historically anonymous and now increasingly threatened key to conducting elections – “what I witnessed as a member of the Committee on Government Affairs” [of the legislature] is that the foreign minister is not acting as a cooperation partner with the local electoral bodies, said Nguyen. She wants to change that, improve education and, she hopes, use federal funds to help counties get the equipment they need to avoid problems like long lines due to lack of voting machines.
Although Nguyen allows some of these ideas to appear “unsexy,” she says they are “necessary pieces to protect democracy. It’s like, ‘We can do that.’ “
One thing Nguyen recognizes as necessary to run for secretary of state in the post-Trump era is a personal security plan.
As an Asian-American woman in public, she has grown used to bigotry; She noted that a few days before we spoke, someone had posted on Twitter, “Go back to your shithole country.” But “Before last year there was general harassment,” she said. “Now there are more death threats.”
Late last year, Nguyen personally contacted voters from a list compiled by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s team after the Big Lie promoter alleged they had voted fraudulently. Nguyen proved the allegation was false. The video of her testimony was widely circulated. The death threats increased. She contacted law enforcement; they advised her to remove personal information from the Internet as much as possible. “I asked family members to lock their social media accounts,” she added. The police drove past her house.
For Nguyen, the situation is not without irony. “I have a frame of reference from my parents,” she said. “They saw a loss of civil liberties. My father was imprisoned by the government for three years. They told me that they never believed they were going to lose their land. I am very concerned – we are facing threats, disinformation and people who are actively trying to break down democracy. I think we only have a limited amount of time to reorient ourselves. “