Skip to content
Late Week Mop-Up with Baoky Vu
Go to my account

Late Week Mop-Up with Baoky Vu

Talking Georgia politics with a DeKalb County elections official.

Andrew and I were chatting this week about what he was working on, and he told me he was about to hop on the phone with a guy from the DeKalb County, Georgia, elections board and I knew we had to do this for our mop-up! A county elections board official, in fact, is exactly what we’ve been missing as I’ve been trying to give you—our dear readers—a tour of the sort of folks that make up the campaign world behind the scenes. Campaigns are about elections, and elections only are as good as the people who run them. Enter Mr. Vu. 

I am grateful for people like Mr. Vu who take on these thankless and yet vital roles in local government, and I highly encourage all of you to consider how you can help in your next local election!

With that, take it away, Andrew…

Andrew: As the Bobs said in Office Space, “What would you say you do here?” Tell us a bit about yourself, how you got here, and what your duties are on the election board.

Baoky: I happen to be the Republican-appointed vice chair of the DeKalb County board of elections, one of the top four counties in the state of Georgia in terms of population, with around 850,000 residents. The registered voting base for DeKalb County has grown from about 380,000 to 400,000 in 2016 up to around 575,000 registered voters as of 2020. Historically, DeKalb’s been a very Democratic county—but certainly Donald Trump has served as a unifier in more ways than one, because he’s also brought out not just Democrats, but also Republicans and disaffected Republicans to vote against him. In DeKalb, you literally just had on November 3 a margin basically 82, 83 percent Biden and 15, 16 percent Trump. Not too different from the trend in your metro Atlanta County.

My family’s originally from Saigon, Vietnam. We moved from Australia back to the States in the late ‘70s, and I was involved in the Republican political side for many years, having started out in the College Republicans world. I was a commission appointee under Bush 43 back in the last decade, and I was on finance teams for McCain and Romney as well. So I happen to be what you’d consider a center-right activist. In 2016, I was actually on the slate of Republican electors—unfortunately, I didn’t like what our nominee was doing. So I voiced my opposition and stepped down from being considered a Republican presidential elector in 2016.

Andrew: How have things changed since you first started out?

Baoky: I’m running into the 11th year of my service on the Board of Elections. And it’s frightening and disturbing to see the type of accusations and vitriol that’s being hurled at elections officials throughout the country. Here in the state of Georgia, I jokingly say that the unleashed Kraken has been high on crack. Because as Secretary Brad Raffensperger and my longtime friend Gabe Sterling has repeatedly said, there is no widespread fraud, and these baseless claims are destructive and damaging, because it’s basically catalyzing the nuts and crazies out there.

This, I think, is a very dangerous time for democracy. It’s extremely disturbing to me, and these threats of domestic terrorism upon the election officials, upon poll workers, that in itself is an attack on the foundations of democracy in my opinion.

Andrew: OK, so how does it work? And how does this year differ compared to previous years?

Baoky: In general, boards of elections are the superintendents for voter registration and elections in their counties. At the state level, the state elections board and the secretary of state, they set forth policies and regulations in regards to how we conduct elections, and then that is executed by the counties.

I’ll give you an example. Historically, we had to wait until the day of elections to begin opening the outside envelopes for the ballots. This year, for the general on November 3, based on the expectation that there would be a tremendous number of mail-in ballots, the secretary of state authorized us to begin opening the outside envelopes at least eight days in advance of Election Day. Now, we could open that up, and have the vote review panel—which is comprised of one Republican, one Democrat, and one department official—confirm signatures and so forth. But we cannot open to tabulate the ballot itself until after the polls are closed at 7 p.m. [on Election Day]. So there are a lot of technical matters.

And whereas two years ago, when the far left was accusing us of “voter suppression,” I would always say, no, it’s actually a very complex system that is driven by federal voting rights laws and state policies that serve to minimize irregularities and systematic fraud, because the system itself has these checks and balances. So it’s extremely ironic this time that the Trumpies and the folks who are blinded by this are accusing the secretary of state and the county election departments of systematic fraud—because the Republicans, my friends, the people I know, we’re the ones who have helped to create the complexities over the past decade that would help reduce fraud.

Andrew: Walk us through some of this then. What are some of these complicating systems you mention that are designed to push back and prevent fraud?

Baoky: So I’ll start at the beginning. With any election, there are three processes. The first is registering to vote. If you’re a new resident to Georgia and you go to the Department of Driver Services, they automatically register you to vote unless you opt out. The other way is for you to go online to the secretary of state or to the county department of voter registration and elections and register to vote.

The next step is, when you have been registered, you’re in there and we’ll begin processing. Now let’s say that coming up to the elections, we’ve set in place three methods of voting. You could either request a mail-in ballot, or you can go to early voting which, in many counties, we expanded to three weeks including a full weekend of voting. And then on Election Day, let’s say you received a ballot, and a lot of people were reticent to mail in their ballots to the post office. So in this county—this is where the board came in—we voted to authorize a number of ballot dropboxes in secure 24-hour surveillance locations with handicap access. Those are the rules that the state elections board set forth, so we have to follow that.

Andrew: Okay, so now you decide to go vote: What’s to stop you from voting twice, once by mail and once in person?

Baoky: This whole series of checks and balances are what’s been developed over time. Let’s say, for instance, you received your absentee ballot. And then you decide, “You know what, I’m not going to have time,” because you received it late. I get frequent complaints from voters, “Wait a second, I sent in my ballot application five weeks ago, I haven’t received it. What am I going to do?”

In that case there are laws and regulations regarding how that is processed. You can literally take that absentee ballot to a polling location on Election Day and say, “Hey, here’s my ballot; I’d like to forgo this and vote in person.” In which case somebody at that poll location would make you sign an affidavit saying that we’re going to discard your absentee ballot so you can vote in person. In cases where you never received your ballot, there are poll workers who are deputized to take your signed affidavit and allow you to vote.

And then when we go back to tabulate votes, we go through and run that through to make sure that person did not cast both a mail-in ballot and an in-person ballot and then have it counted twice. So there are steps to it.

Andrew: Can you speak quickly to this signature matching process? 

Baoky: The irony in terms of these accusations by these legal teams on behalf of Donald Trump is that somehow signatures need to be reaudited. The funny thing is that the initial opening of [ballot envelopes] requires that we have vote review panels to review that already. And it was actually the Republican legislature and Republican officials who in years past passed decisions that basically said ballots can’t be opened and you can’t verify a ballot to a signature, because that would defy privacy requirements. Person A—if I would open his ballot and look at his signature—that is an invasion of privacy.

But the process was broken down in order to minimize invasion of privacy concerns [and fraud concerns] at the same time, by having vote review panels in place in order to clearly make sure that the vote review panel that is comprised of a Republican and a Democrat have already approved of that signature match without invading individual privacy.            

Andrew: So here’s the real question I think we’ve been driving at: Part of the reason there’s been so many of these accusations flying around in Georgia is because the result is just really close, right? Say somebody did want to go in, in Georgia somewhere, and perform some election fraud—enough to swing a margin of 15,000 votes. Is there any scenario where someone could do something like that?

Baoky: No, there isn’t. First of all, to level an accusation that somehow is systemic is nonsensical, because there just isn’t—if anything, I would err on the side of folks unable to vote, as opposed to folks able to vote illegally. And I’ll tell you why: Through various counties, we always hear of complaints from individuals who either, one, have sent in [for] a ballot two, three, four, five weeks ago, and have not even received it. In fact, I had a city council member who is a Republican here—he requested an absentee mail-in sent to him in California, because he was there with his grandkids. He never got it before the election.

To some degree, with the delays at the post office and so forth, that’s what takes place on a more frequent basis. Counties, the way we work with the state, we really don’t—there’s no plausible way for systematic fraud to take place, period.

I mean it, the unleashed Kraken is full of crack. I mean, it is not plausible to continue to make these assertions. And it’s sad, because ultimately I think Donald Trump is out to destroy democracy the same way he’s out to destroy the GOP. And that’s what worries me … I’ve known the governor here for a number of years, and he’s had to repeatedly push back against the president and his cronies on all these accusations. The secretary of state, he’s an upstanding guy. And now he’s got a SWAT team that’s protecting him.

Andrew: On the Stop the Steal stuff, what do you tell people who have a sense that, when there’s this much smoke, there must be some kind of fire?

Baoky: Well, I guess what I would say is that there are elements of the Republican party, that I’ve been a member of for many years, who now want to suppress the vote and not acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote, because they no longer are fighting for the ideals of the Republican party, but now they’re basically fighting in defense of a wannabe dictator. This has got to stop. It’s destructive of our democracy. It’s domestic terrorism when they are fomenting the type of behavior that’s out there right now—the death threats, the threats of bodily harm. So it’s sad. 

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.