Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
A Fulton County judge is clearing the path for Georgia’s local election officials to have the option of offering early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving ahead of the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoff.
Late Friday afternoon, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign, the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that argued that the secretary of state’s office was misapplying a law by prohibiting early voting on a Saturday that falls within two days after a holiday.
Following the Nov. 8 midterm election when both Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker couldn’t avoid a runoff, the secretary of state’s office issued guidelines for the Senate runoff that said that it was illegal to have the polls open on Saturday, Nov. 26. That is two days after Thanksgiving and a day after a state holiday on Friday.
During a court hearing on Friday, Cox mentioned that many voters like himself are busy working on weekdays, so a weekend voting day would be the most convenient option.
The judge said in his order that, while the Georgia code mentions Saturday advanced voting for general and primary elections, runoff elections are not specifically referenced in the law.
The secretary of state’s office said it plans to appeal the ruling, which means county election administrators and voters may not know until early next week whether the Fulton court order is in effect.
Warnock is in the runoff against Walker following the November midterm election after neither candidate received more than the 50% of votes required by Georgia law to declare a winner.
Warnock’s campaign manager and the executive directors of the state and senate Democratic Party organizations released a statement saying that they look forward to counties announcing that they will provide Georgians the opportunity to cast their ballots on Nov. 26.
“Allowing for Saturday early voting is a win for every Georgia voter, but especially for workers and students who will have a greater opportunity to make their voices heard in this election,” the statement said.
A spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the changes made in the law after the 2020 election were intended to provide more uniformity and accused the Democrats of twisting the law to pressure counties close to the election in an effort to gain a partisan advantage.
During the Friday hearing, Uzoma Nkwonta, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, noted that last week both Raffensperger and one of his top deputies publicly stated that early voting would be allowed the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Fulton County was the first local election office to announce it would use the optional Saturday by opening polls Nov. 26-Dec. 2 from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m.
Georgia law specifies that in-person voting can begin as soon as possible prior to a primary and general election, but no later than the second Monday before the runoff date. Early voting sites can be open on the third Saturday of the month if a state holiday precedes the prior weekend.
The Dec. 6 runoff, however, does not fit the timeline listed in the code since the third Saturday bleeds into the midterm certification window.
Instead, the secretary of state’s office has said the state law requires counties to start the runoff’s week-long advanced voting on Nov. 28.
Warnock has said it is crucial to have as many days of early voting as possible since the Republican-backed 2021 election law overhaul shortens the time between general elections and runoffs and reduces early voting days.
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