The governor’s race and Senator Raphael Warnock’s candidacy for a full term will top the list in 2022, but the biggest contest could be lower in the ballot: Secretary of State.
He’s the person running the elections in Georgia, and he’s been a lightning rod for two consecutive cycles. In 2018, Democrats accused Brian Kemp, then Secretary of State, of putting his thumb on the scales by disqualifying Democratic voters, which led to his narrow election for governor. Last year, Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to intimidate Kemp and current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into overturning Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. This “big lie” has now become an article of faith among conservatives, with candidates tripping over each other to promote the concept largely debunked that Biden cheated to get to the White House. A statewide manual count, a statewide automatic count, an audit of paper ballots and a signature audit in Cobb County all confirmed Biden’s victory with 12 000 votes and revealed no sign of fraud.
Bee Nguyen knows the issues better than anyone: her family fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and settled in Augusta, as she recounted during a recent fundraiser in Athens. Elected to the state legislature to represent Stacey Abrams’ former Atlanta district in 2018, the Democrat had a brief moment of national significance when she challenged Rudy Giuliani and other Trump witnesses at Georgia House’s 2020 election hearings. Now, she is running for secretary of state.
“I think, and I’m not exaggerating, that our democracy is in jeopardy,” Nguyen told a group of local supporters last month. “And we have a few opportunities before we get down to a road that we can’t get back from.”
The Republicans, meanwhile, want to go further in this direction. They passed a voting law last year restricting postal voting and drop boxes, and allowing the state to take over local election councils, among others. Republican lawmakers have already started the process of taking over the election in Fulton County, the state’s largest Democratic voting pool.
A few days after Nguyen’s visit to Athens, our congressman, Jody Hice, was in Perry speaking at a Trump rally. Hice, a former ultraconservative pastor and radio host, embraced the big lie, as well as the Jan.6 uprising that sought to overthrow the Biden Electoral College victory. Hice is also running for Secretary of State in the GOP primary against Raffensperger.
A third Republican in the race is David Belle Isle, a former mayor of Alpharetta, who lost to Raffensperger three years ago. Instead of alleging voter fraud like Hice, Belle Isle argued in her interview with the Oconee County GOP last week that Raffensperger’s decisions caused Republicans to lose in the election long before November. One of Raffensperger’s mistakes, according to Belle Isle, was agreeing to a consent decree with Abrams’ voting rights group, Fair Fight, which changed the way the state verified signatures on postal ballots, which reduced the number of rejected ballots. Another sent every registered voter a request for a postal ballot during the pandemic and allowed counties to set up drop boxes, which he said were not secure. (They were monitored by surveillance cameras 24/7. And, by the way, unsolicited applications were sent out before the primary, not the general.)
“Brad Raffensperger certified the poor result,” Belle Isle said. “Donald Trump should have gotten Georgia’s electoral votes.”
Ironically, Belle Isle also called for abandoning Dominion, the company that made Georgia’s new voting machines, and replacing them with hand-marked paper ballots. That’s what Democrats wanted to do before 2020, but Republican lawmakers instead decided to use Dominion machines that spit out a paper receipt similar to a QR code.
At the same meeting, Kemp’s challenger Vernon Jones went even further, accusing establishment Democrats and Republicans of a vague plot to oust Trump and calling for an audit like the one recently conducted in the county. from Maricopa, Arizona, where Phoenix is located. Although very irregular and designed to produce a pro-Trump result, election experts say this audit actually ended adding to Biden’s margin of victory.
The election was “riddled with fraud,” Jones told Republicans in Oconee. “There’s a cover-up going on here… There’s a dead cat at the end of this line. “
Perhaps out of deference for being in Kemp’s backyard, Jones went easy on the Athens native. “I love Brian Kemp,” he said at one point. “I love his family. But her heart wasn’t in the heartbeat bill, because life doesn’t start at six weeks. Life begins at conception.
Until last year, Jones was a Democrat who served as CEO of DeKalb County and made two stints in the legislature, but changed parties last year and became full MAGA. This wasn’t Jones’ first flirtation with the GOP – he managed to vote twice for George W. Bush during his 2008 race for the US Senate. But he has a lot of explanations to give about his voting record. He told the Oconee crowd that he voted against the abortion restrictions backed by Kemp (later rejected in court) because they weren’t strong enough. Jones, however, has the backing of Trump, who spent much of his speech on Perry attack Kemp, even going so far as to say he would rather have Abrams.
Jones also hit other far-right talking points, accusing the Democratic Party of bowing to black voters, comparing COVID-19 restrictions to Nazi Germany and denouncing the transgender community, with lines of applause like : “Every time I see Rachel Maddow attacking white Republican Men, I say to them, ‘Why are you attacking them when you try to sound like it?’ “
Such rhetoric can be dangerous. Nguyen recalled how she and other women who spoke out against Trump’s attempt to steal the election became the target of threats. But even though relatively reasonable candidates like Kemp and Raffensperger survive their primaries, they have always supported Senate Bill 202.
“We shouldn’t be in a position where we breathe a sigh of relief when someone is upholding the law,” Nguyen said.
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