In This Episode
- Redistricting efforts are underway across the country, but it’s become a contentious process. The Department of Justice, for example, filed a lawsuit against the newly drawn maps in Texas on Monday, arguing that the maps discriminate against voters of color.
- Today, we zero in on what redistricting efforts look like in Georgia, a battleground state that Republicans want to control . Democratic state lawmaker Bee Nguyen joins us to talk about the future of voting in the state of Georgia, along with her campaign for Georgia’s Secretary of State.
- Watch Crooked Media’s “What A Year” – https://bit.ly/31saLoL
- FiveThirtyEight: “What Redistricting Looks Like In Every State” – https://53eig.ht/3pwx0Sq
Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, December 8th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the best thing to play at your company’s holiday party when you want everyone to go home.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, close the open bar, throw on WAD—you’re going to empty the room in seconds.
Josie Duffy Rice: Even the best office parties, they have to end, you know, and you should be the one to ruin the party.
Gideon Resnick: We are your last call.
Josie Duffy Rice: That’s absolutely true. So, hey, WAD squad, we’re doing things a little differently today. The What A Day team took part in Crooked’s What A Year, a live-stream event to raise money for the No Off Years Fund, which supports local elections and local activism. That happened yesterday, so you can re-watch the broadcast now on YouTube to see all of your favorite people at Crooked play games, read headlines and more.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, I did not embarrass myself, we think. So we’re going to devote our whole show today to a special interview that’s also about how important local elections are, as well as fair representation. As you know, we’ve been covering the contentious issue of redistricting, which only happens every 10 years after the U.S. Census results are announced. It is extremely important because a single political party could take control of what is otherwise an evenly-divided state, and that is often exactly what happens. As we reported about on yesterday’s show, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the newly-drawn maps in Texas, arguing that they discriminate against voters of color. On top of redistricting, there’s also the huge concern over voting rights in general, and the effort to deny voters, especially people of color, the right to cast a ballot.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s looking pretty scary, could be pretty bleak if we don’t figure this out. So we’re going to zero in on what these issues look like in a state like mine, in Georgia. Republicans have taken several steps to stay in control, despite the clear signs that it’s become a true battleground state. Democrats have edged out Republicans in the last presidential race and the two most recent U.S. Senate races as well. So that’s why Democratic state lawmaker Bee Nguyen has stepped up to run for Georgia Secretary of State and oversee the integrity of its elections. And so we’ve invited her to be here with us. So Bee thank you for joining us.
Bee Nguyen: Thanks for having me on.
Josie Duffy Rice: So what are your worries about the future of elections in Georgia and politics in Georgia if someone like yourself isn’t making sure that elections are free and fair?
Bee Nguyen: Well, you know, I’m worried about our democracy as a whole. And when I’m looking at what’s happening in Georgia, I also know that it is not a silo. It is happening in many other states across our country. But Georgia is certainly an important part of it. So what I tell people all the time is, look, this is no longer just about our single state. If there is one secretary of state installed who is radical like Jody Hice, for example, who is running in Georgia, who wanted to decertify the results of the 2020 election, then we are in huge trouble. Because it’s no longer about trying to delegitimize the results of the 2020 election, it’s setting us up for 2024, where Georgia could very well be the deciding state. And if we install a secretary of state who is anti-democratic and refuses to certify the results of the election, then that is going to impact our entire country as a whole.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And let’s talk about redistricting for a moment because Republicans fully control the process. They’ve given themselves the advantage to hold a majority of seats in the state’s General Assembly and congressional delegation. So what does that meant specifically for people of color in Georgia?
Bee Nguyen: Well, we knew that this was to be expected, right? I mean, we’re looking at a legislature controlled by Republicans on both the House and Senate side and every single statewide seat is held by a Republican, and they control redrawing the maps. And so we expected it to be iterations of maps that were not supported by both sides of the aisle. I think, you know, what is specifically troubling is when we’re looking at a place like Georgia, we have gained a million people over the last 10 years, and all of them are people of color, and we are not seeing that reflected in our maps. And in fact, when we look at the congressional maps, we are looking at a reduction of one House seat where they targeted Lucy McBath, and drew her out of her district, basically. And then on the House and Senate side, more specifically, we do not see them add one single new majority-minority district on the Senate side and in fact turned a majority-minority district currently held by Senator Au into a majority white district. And so we’re not seeing that equitable representation across the board. And I think even more dangerous is the lack of competitive seats. We’re going to see increased polarization with no ability to compromise, and we’re going to continue to see that if you live in a certain district that’s noncompetitive, you are just not going to have a chance of having somebody who represents the same values as you do.
Josie Duffy Rice: As you know, Republicans have been claiming that this was a very transparent redistricting process. Do you think that that’s true? Can you talk a little bit about what parts of the process were not transparent?
Bee Nguyen: Yeah, I mean, when they were hosting these statewide hearings, there were many limitations that were put in place. For instance, there were no maps. So if you were to show up as a citizen, you could not testify to the actual draft of the map itself. The other portions were, you couldn’t ask any questions! So you could show up for public testimony, but it wasn’t necessarily true that any members of the committee would have to answer any of your questions. And then I think something that was glaringly obvious was just the inequity in terms of not hosting any hearings in our major metro Atlantic counties like Gwinnett, like DeKalb. The lack of language access—and we’re looking at a state where total combined population of AAPI and Latino people in our state is close to 15% and not one single townhall was conducted in any other language than English, and there were repeated calls for in-language access and those were denied.
Gideon Resnick: Right. I want to talk about the redistricting bills again. They have been passed by state lawmakers, on their way to be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, but are there any legal challenges and could they come soon enough to bear an impact before the 2022 elections?
Bee Nguyen: There will certainly be litigation, and I think there will be multiple lawsuits coming from different groups. And I don’t feel optimistic that those will be settled before the 2022 elections. So the maps that we see now are probably the maps that are going to be in place for election season. We still are protected under the 1965 Civil Rights, Act Section 2 specifically about deleting the voices of people of color. Again, like when you look at the fact that a million people of color were added to our population and that is clearly not reflected in the map, I’m more hopeful that we will be able to be successful in a legal challenge when it comes to that.
Josie Duffy Rice: When it comes to voting restrictions, the state passed several earlier this year after kind of Donald Trump’s real focus on Georgia when he was claiming that the election was stolen, the state passed several voting restrictions that took effect in time for this November’s races. So what can you tell our audience about them and how they have impacted the right of Georgians to cast a ballot?
Bee Nguyen: I would say that the restrictions put in place around absentee ballot voting, we actually saw what that looked like and how it impacted a voter’s ability to have their ballot counted. So there are restrictions in terms of the time period in which you can actually submit the request for an absentee ballot, and when you can receive the absentee ballot. All of those deadlines were shortened and compressed. And so what we saw was people who never got their ballots. And then what we also saw were ballots that were sent in late and didn’t count, which is pretty typical for absentee ballot voting in a state like Georgia, where it has to be received by Election Day, not postmarked by Election Day. And then the restriction of secure drop boxes where you were not able to actually use the drop box the days leading up to the election. They were only available during the early voting period and they were only inside at an early voting location. So no more getting off of work late and dropping your ballot off when you got up for work. No more being last minute and saying, Look, the elections on Tuesday, I have my ballot, I’ll drop it off on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. You can’t do any of those things anymore. But certainly the biggest impact that we saw was a shortened time frame that condensed the voter’s ability to request an absentee ballot. And the AJC actually wrote an article about it and said that of the number of people who requested an absentee ballot and did not receive them, I think it was only 29% of those people who actually decided to show up at the polls and vote in-person.
Josie Duffy Rice: Wow. I mean, I think for people who don’t live in Georgia, it’s important to kind of underscore that it wasn’t like it was super easy to vote here before.
Bee Nguyen: Yeah. And I think that what’s lost in this conversation is how many people get dis-enfranchized by some of these rules, right? I mean, when you look at the number of absentee ballots that are not counted, if you look at the 2020 numbers both in the primary and the general, the overwhelming number of ballots not counted were ballots that arrive late. And this is happening at the same time as the Post Office being dismantled. And when the media covers this, nobody says, look, thousands of ballots were not counted because they arrived late. They’re still honing in on the messages of the Big Lie, or one or two cases that don’t reflect what’s actually going on. We haven’t been able to overtake that narrative of, Look, the biggest problem is actually people are voting and their ballots aren’t counted because they’re not arriving in time. And that’s thousands of voters versus all the other things that are talked about, right?
Gideon Resnick: We have a lot more to discuss with Bee Nguyen about the future of voting in the state of Georgia, along with her campaign for Georgia Secretary of State.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so stay tuned. We’ll be back with more of our conversation after some ads.
Josie Duffy Rice: And we’re back. We have with us Bee Nguyen, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, to talk about redistricting, voting rights, and ensuring fair elections.
Gideon Resnick: I want to talk for a second about the Republican incumbent, Brad Raffensperger, the current Georgia secretary of state. While he resisted President Trump’s demands to find him more votes from the 2020 election, he actually blamed the idea that an election could be stolen, essentially on Stacey Abrams. Here he is on MSNBC in early November.
[clip of Brad Raffensperger] She lost the state of Georgia in 2018 by 55,000. She questioned the legitimacy of our elections. She actually then set the table, along with all the leaders, national Democrat leaders that supported Stacey Abrams, in her Big Lie and set the table for President Trump then just to ramp it up and take it to the next level.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So for those listening, there is a lot that people have been raising their eyebrows at here. But what do you think is the actual root cause for people’s distrust for the electoral system?
Bee Nguyen: I want to first say this, it’s a total false equivalency, and it’s irresponsible to suggest that Stacey Abrams using litigation to challenge restrictive voting laws is the same as people making up lies to overturn the results of the election. And quite frankly, I’m disappointed that he is being painted as some sort of national hero. I was on the ground in 2018 and a lot of the issues that were litigated in court were very valid issues. An example is in Gwinnett County, we saw that absentee ballots were being rejected at a much higher rate than other counties. And when we looked at the numbers, voters of color were being targeted more often than not. That was litigated in court, and that court litigation yielded a process for voters to cure our absentee ballots if they were rejected for signature match or you forgot to sign your ballot. That enabled both parties, and both parties did this, to create canvasing efforts to ensure that voters understood how to fix your ballot if you were flagged. That’s the difference between 2018 and 2020. 2018 was legitimate issues on the ground that were identified and litigated. Some issues were won in court, some were not. But they clearly had evidence to show that these were problems that stemmed from the laws that we made in Georgia, versus a bunch of lies—and they were lies—to overturn the results of the election. You can’t even compare the two things.
Gideon Resnick: And what are the most important things that you do differently than Raffensperger, if elected, you know, it could be about restoring trust in that system, anything else that you were thinking?
Bee Nguyen: It’s a multi-pronged strategy, right? It is about restoring trust in the system and that absolutely has to happen by electing people who don’t sow the seeds of doubt, right? So Raffensperger is somebody I call a double speaker because on one hand, he says: there was no voter fraud, we have the most secure election in the state of Georgia. And then on the other hand, he’s like: oh no, but we need the Senate bill 202, and also, we need to take over Fulton County Elections Board. And he continues to give oxygen to the premise that the election was flawed. He just uses a different mechanism to do it in order to garner favor with Trump supporters. He will actually never support him again. So removing folks who continue to predicate on that lie is really important. I also think it is investing in voter education and outreach. We currently have a Secretary of State who does not believe it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State itself to work in good faith to help voters understand the way in which the law has changed. Now, when you think about Raffensperger, in 2020 he was sending around folks from the SOS to polling precincts and one of them showed up at one of the polling precincts in my district with a firearm in his hip to go inside and tell poll workers to remove all food and water. And everybody was scared. And that is a tactic to instill fear in poll workers, but also voters. That should not be the case at all. The Secretary of State’s Office needs to be a place that educates voters and provides them with the necessary information to ensure that they can vote and that they have confidence that their vote will be counted. I also think that we have to tackle this massive election disinformation campaign that is impacting Georgians and everyone across the country. As Secretary of State, I would build a division that solely focuses on election disinformation, cyber security, and foreign interference. And part of that methodology is when a threat is identified, to brief all 159 local election boards on what those threats are and how to mitigate those—but also send a representative to the communities, at libraries, chambers of commerce, and build those partnerships so that people on the ground will start recognizing that the Secretary of State is on their side. And so there’s certainly a lot of things that I would do different from Raffensperger.
Josie Duffy Rice: What you’ve seen in Georgia is something many voters elsewhere are experiencing as well. So what’s your advice on how they can get better involved to make change and influence the people making these decisions?
Bee Nguyen: Well, I think this is a long term investment, right? It can’t be about one candidate or one election cycle, and it is a lifelong commitment to preserving our democracy. And so, you know, I think that absolutely we need to keep pressure on Congress to pass federal voting rights protection. I was in D.C. a couple of times this year to call for that, including a couple months ago where 25 of us were arrested. The first time there was civil disobedience, it was five people being arrested. The next time when I was there, it was 25 of us, and the last time they did it was over 200 people. So continuing to make that call for federal voting rights protection is critical to it. Second, I think obviously ensuring that you can invest in candidates who are going to be pro-democracy candidates at every level of government. You know, the other side of the aisle knows this very well, and they have a really coordinated and sophisticated campaign to tackle every level of government, including our school boards. And they are making ground on that. So we need to pay attention to every single office and make sure that we are supporting people in those places who are pro-democracy candidates. I think something that has been incredibly helpful also has been the infrastructure on voting protection. I have done voter protection work as a poll monitor and as a ballot curer. And those are the unsexy things that we all need to do collectively in order to mitigate the damage that we’re seeing with voter suppression laws. And then invest in the organizations in your own state and in your local area who will have infrastructure on the ground, rooted in community, and will stay there after an election cycle, and who will do the engagement 365 days a year, even if there is not an election that particular cycle. And I think it’s just the recognition that we are in this for the long term, that democracy is not guaranteed, that we have to actively be committed to preserving it every single day, and that our country is not one that is incapable of sliding backwards. And I think that’s probably one of the biggest mental and emotional blocks that we face, where we are seeing the red flags on the wall, all the warning signs are there for folks who are paying attention to it. The alarm bells are there. But I think for the most part, we want to believe it would never happen to America. And because we have that mental and emotional block, we let our guard down around it. But the reality is we’re in a place where the decisions that we make now around our democracy are going to impact us indefinitely. We only have a few chances left to get this right. And if we pass up those handful of chances, we will be in a constitutional crisis indefinitely.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that is scary and sobering, but we are glad that people like you are fighting the fight. So thank you so much for joining us. That’s Bee Nguyen, Democratic state lawmaker in Georgia and a candidate for Georgia Secretary of state.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we’re going to look to more resources in our show notes so you can find out about how you can get involved in your own local races, how to guarantee fair elections where you are. Plus the stream of Crooked special, What A Year. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, add our podcast to your office holiday party playlist, and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just mean text messages about your song choices at the office holiday party like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And check out What A Year!
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s awesome. I’m not lying.
Gideon Resnick: It’ll help me feed my family.
Josie Duffy Rice: Even if you don’t care about Gideon family, you should check it out yet.
Gideon Resnick: Even if you want my family to freeze in a Siberian work camp for the rest of time, you should still watch What A Year.
Josie Duffy Rice: We’re getting more loopy as the end of the year approaches, so please forgive us.
Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.