Last December, when Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen joined a virtual legislative hearing revisiting the 2020 election, she had done her homework.
Nguyen spent the days before examining the lists of voters who the Trump campaign alleged may have committed election fraud in Georgia. She studied the public records, called several voters and, in one case, jumped in her car to visit a constituent who the campaign claimed had voted in both Georgia and Virginia.
The voter and her husband have “lived in Georgia their entire lives” and “have lived in that same house since 1985,” Nguyen said during a roughly 12-minute Q&A with an analyst whose research had been cited in lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies. “They’ve never even been to the state in which they are alleged to have double-voted.”
Nguyen’s methodical and public takedown of multiple voter fraud claims drew immediate attention and threats, she said. Someone posted her home address on a right-wing website as soon as she stopped speaking, and she was called a traitor and threatened with execution.
But “there was no way I was going to stay silent,” Nguyen told CNN recently. “I was at the center of the storm as there were attempts to overturn the results in Georgia. I recognize that this is the single most pressing issue: the protection of democracy.”
Now, the Democratic lawmaker hopes to parlay her work and visibility on voting rights into a new position, as she runs for Georgia secretary of state. If she succeeds in 2022, Nguyen – the daughter of Vietnamese refugees – would become the first Asian American elected to a statewide political post in Georgia.
Nguyen (pronounced WIN) is among a cluster of politicians who have stepped into high-profile roles in the last year to defend the integrity of the 2020 election against baseless fraud claims advanced by former President Donald Trump and his allies. And this group is making voting rights central to their campaigns for higher office in states that could determine who wins the presidency in 2024.
In the perennial battleground state of Pennsylvania, for instance, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro entered the race for governor earlier this month with a pledge “to continue to stand up to the attacks on our democracy.”
Shapiro’s office has defended the state against a string of 25 legal challenges brought by Trump or his allies over the 2020 election. Biden won the Keystone State by more than 80,000 votes.
And in Arizona, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is running for governor after rising to national prominence with her defense of the state’s election results and repeated denunciations of a partisan ballot review in Maricopa County.
On the frontlines In Arizona
Arizona has been Ground Zero for conspiracy theories about election fraud, following Biden’s 10,457-vote win last year in a state that had not backed a Democrat for the presidency in more than two decades.
And Hobbs has been on the frontlines as the state’s election chief, issuing scathing critiques of a Republican-led review of ballots in Maricopa County and appearing frequently on national television to defend the state’s election system.
Her campaign announcement video opened with news clips about the threats of violence she’s endured because of her stand on the election.
In an interview with CNN, Hobbs said state officials need to focus other pressing issues – such as investing in schools and grappling with water restrictions after the federal government declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River – rather than relitigating the 2020 election.
Hobbs said the suspicion that has fueled conspiracy theories about the election results is bleeding into other parts of life in the state and threatens to hobble policymaking.
“These are the same folks who have questioned the validity of science about Covid and vaccines and masks,” she told CNN. “They are at school board meetings, screaming about curriculum that we’re not teaching in schools.”
“You can have government by conspiracy theory,” Hobbs said, “or you can have government that actually works. They’re not really compatible.”
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is term limited and cannot seek office again in 2022. Trump already has made his choice among the crowded field of Republicans seeking the governor’s seat, backing former news anchor Kari Lake.
Lake has called the 2020 election “shady, shoddy” and “corrupt” and has pushed for its decertification, although there is no mechanism in the state to do so.
In addition to the high-profile Maricopa County ballot review, Arizona has enacted three new laws that restrict voting – one of 19 states to pass voting limits this year, according to the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.
Four of those states – Texas, Georgia, Iowa and Florida – have bundled together their new restrictions in sweeping omnibus laws.
In Pennsylvania, GOP lawmakers who hold the majority in the General Assembly also have pushed their version of wide-ranging legislation to expand voter ID requirements and tighten election deadlines – only to have it vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf – something Shapiro highlights as he campaigns to replace the term-limited Wolf.
“Come 2023 and ’24, Pennsylvanians are either going to have a governor that vetoes the attacks on voting rights or someone who signs them and turns our state into Texas or Georgia,” he told CNN in an interview. And he notes that the next governor of Pennsylvania also will have the power to appoint the secretary of state, who has the day-to-day authority over the state’s electoral process.
Right now, Shapiro and Republican legislators are battling in court over an effort by a Senate committee to subpoena the Pennsylvania Secretary of State for a raft of voter data – including names, addresses, driver’s license numbers and partial Social Security numbers – for the roughly 9 million registered votes in the state.
State Sen. Cris Dush, the Republican in charge of the election investigation, has said the personal information is needed to verify voters’ identities, following allegations that some people who voted don’t actually exist.
Shapiro argues the subpoenas violate Pennsylvanians’ privacy rights, serve no legitimate legislative purpose and represent little more than an effort to placate Trump, who has baselessly claimed fraud led to his loss in the state.
In Georgia – one of 26 states with elected secretaries of state positions on the ballot next year – the normally low-key contest for the office already has emerged as one of the hot-ticket, down-ballot races of 2022.
Trump has waded into the Republican primary to target the current officeholder, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for defeat after the election chief rebuffed Trump’s entreaty to “find” the votes needed to overturn the former President’s loss in the state. The former President backs Georgia Rep. Jody Hice, one of 147 Republican lawmakers in Congress who objected to certifying Biden’s presidential victory.
That is in stark contrast to Nguyen, who is the highest-profile Democrat in the race and has made voting rights a priority during her tenure in the Georgia Assembly.
She was elected in a 2017 special election to fill the Atlanta-area seat previously held by Stacey Abrams, the Democrats’ 2018 gubernatorial nominee. The nonprofit executive was the first Vietnamese American elected to the legislature in Georgia.
For Nguyen, a proud moment came when she helped repeal the state’s “exact match” voter registration law.
The law, which had frozen some 53,000 voter registrations ahead of the 2018 election, required the information on voter registration applications to exactly match information on driver’s license, Social Security records and state ID cards. Registrations could be stalled over missing hyphens or misspellings in government records, and a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups at the time said that 80% of the stalled applications belonged to people of color.
Nguyen said her name has been misspelled at legislative meetings and on the Georgia Assembly’s website. “People with non-Anglo names were going to get caught up in the system,” she said.
She was among more than two dozen activists arrested last week outside the White House as they demanded action on federal voting legislation to blunt the impact new voting restrictions in states like Georgia.
More on Voting Rights
Nguyen views herself as part of the New South, a diverse coalition that has helped turn the traditionally red state into a political battleground that sent two Democrats to the US Senate in runoff elections this year.
“Our diversity is our strength,” she said. “This is about Black Georgians and Latinos and Asians, young people, white progressives – people who have chosen to call Georgia our home. We’re going to fight for it.”
Nguyen said that while she expected the threats and racial taunts that followed the legislative hearing last December, the experience also reinforced for her that many Americans don’t subscribe to the election falsehoods.
“There were Georgians from all over the state, and people from all over the country who reached out and thanked me and said they needed to hear the truth,” Nguyen said. “People sent me notes in the mail, flowers, books, muffins. I didn’t expect that part of it.”