City DopeNews

Republicans Are Still Obsessed by the 2020 Election

Bee Nguyen. Credit: Blake Aued

The governor’s race and Sen. Raphael Warnock’s bid for a full term will be at the top of the ticket in 2022, but the most important contest might be further down the ballot: secretary of state.

That’s the person who runs Georgia elections, and it’s been a lightning rod for two straight cycles. In 2018, Democrats accused Brian Kemp, then the secretary of state, of putting his thumb on the scale by disqualifying Democratic voters, leading to his narrow election as governor. Last year, Donald Trump tried and failed to bully Kemp and current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into overturning Joe Biden’s win in Georgia. That “Big Lie” has now become an article of faith among conservatives, with candidates tripping over each other to promote the widely debunked notion that Biden cheated his way to the White House. A statewide hand recount, a statewide machine recount, an audit of paper ballots and a signature audit in Cobb County all confirmed Biden’s 12,000-vote victory and turned up no signs of fraud.

Bee Nguyen knows the stakes 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’ old Atlanta district in 2018, the Democrat had a brief moment of national prominence when she challenged Rudy Giuliani and other Trump witnesses during Georgia House hearings on the 2020 election. Now, she’s running for secretary of state.

“I think, and I don’t exaggerate, that our democracy is in peril,” Nguyen told a group of local supporters last month. “And we have a few opportunities before we go down a road we can’t come back from.”

Republicans, meanwhile, want to go further down that road. They passed a voting law last year restricting absentee voting and drop boxes, and allowing the state to take over local boards of elections, among other things. Republican legislators have already started the process of taking over elections in Fulton County, the largest trove of Democratic votes in the state.

A few days after Nguyen visited Athens, our congressman, Jody Hice, was in Perry speaking at a Trump rally. Hice—an ultraconservative former pastor and talk radio host—has embraced the Big Lie, as well as the Jan. 6 insurrection that sought to topple Biden’s Electoral College victory. Hice is running for secretary of state, too, in the GOP primary against Raffensperger.

David Belle Isle.

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 election fraud like Hice, Belle Isle argued when he spoke to the Oconee County GOP last week that decisions Raffensperger made lost Republicans the election well before November. One of Raffensperger’s mistakes, according to Belle Isle, was agreeing to a consent decree with Abrams’ voting rights group Fair Fight that changed the way the state verified signatures on absentee ballots, resulting in fewer ballots being rejected. Another was mailing every registered voter an absentee ballot application during the pandemic and allowing counties to set up drop boxes, which he falsely claimed were unsecured. (They were monitored by surveillance cameras 24/7. And, by the way, the unsolicited applications were sent out before the primary, not the general.)

“Brad Raffensperger certified the wrong result,” Belle Isle said. “Donald Trump should’ve gotten Georgia’s electoral votes.”

Ironically, Belle Isle also called for ditching Dominion, the company that manufactured Georgia’s new voting machines, and replacing them with hand-marked paper ballots. That’s what Democrats wanted to do prior to 2020, but Republican legislators instead decided to go with Dominion machines that spit out a paper receipt similar to a QR code.

At the same meeting, Kemp challenger Vernon Jones went even further, accusing Democrats and establishment Republicans of a vague conspiracy to oust Trump and calling for an audit like the one recently conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona, where Phoenix is located. Despite being highly irregular and set up to produce a pro-Trump result, according to elections experts, that audit actually wound up adding to Biden’s margin of victory

The election was “riddled with fraud,” Jones told Oconee Republicans. “There’s a coverup going on here…There’s a dead cat on the end of this line.”

Perhaps in deference to being in Kemp’s backyard, Jones went easy on the Athens native. “I like Brian Kemp,” he said at one point. “I like his family. But his heart wasn’t in the heartbeat bill, because life doesn’t start at six weeks. Life starts at conception.”

Until last year, Jones was a Democrat who served as DeKalb County CEO and did two stints in the legislature, but he switched parties last year and went full MAGA. It wasn’t Jones’ first flirtation with the GOP—he copped to voting for George W. Bush twice during his 2008 run for U.S. Senate. But he has a lot of explaining to do about his voting record. He told the Oconee crowd that he voted against the Kemp-backed abortion restrictions (later thrown out in court) because they weren’t strong enough. Jones does, however, have the backing of Trump, who spent much of his Perry speech attacking Kemp, even going so far as to say he’d rather have Abrams. 

Jones hit other hard-right talking points, too, accusing the Democratic Party of pandering to Black voters, comparing COVID-19 restrictions to Nazi Germany and railing against the transgender community, with applause lines like: “Every time I see Rachel Maddow attack white Republican men, I say, ‘Why are you attacking them when you’re trying to look like one?’”

Such rhetoric can be dangerous. Nguyen recalled how she and other women who spoke out against Trump’s attempt to steal the election became targets of threats. But even if comparatively reasonable candidates like Kemp and Raffensperger survive their primaries, they still supported Senate Bill 202.

“We shouldn’t be in a position where we breathe a sigh of relief when somebody upholds the law,” Nguyen said.