Opinion: Holidays shouldn’t crimp voting access

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S VIEW

It’s almost tailor-made for a comedy script. You know, the kind that makes barbed fun of the South while we protest the unfairness and PC-ness of it all.

Even repeating once more that we’re the number-one state for business can’t camouflage that Saturday voting – at least for now -- won’t be allowed during Georgia’s nationally watched runoff election for a U.S. Senate seat.

This after the Secretary of State’s office had earlier said polls would be open on a Saturday before the Dec. 6 runoff.

Why not have the Saturday option that we’ve grown accustomed to as part of early voting?

Cue up the punchline, please: The given Saturday follows too closely after both the state holiday once known as Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Thanksgiving.

If you don’t get the weighted history and irony behind that, please know that many others do.

And they won’t be inclined to see it in a light favorable to us.

As could be predicted, the matter has quickly landed in court. The Democratic Party of Georgia and Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock filed suit Tuesday, seeking to reverse the state’s interpretation of the law.

The on-again, off-again Saturday runoff voting is apparently an unintended consequence of Georgia’s voting laws.

Current law doesn’t allow early voting within two days after a holiday. And we have state holidays on both the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week. State officials say that precludes Saturday voting on Nov. 26.

The latest legislation, Senate Bill 202, didn’t change the Saturday early voting language of state law, which was written in 2016 and amended in 2017.

But SB 202 did require that runoff elections take place four weeks after general elections, rather than the nine weeks under earlier laws.

That shortened cycle apparently created the problem we’re now seeing.

SB 202 was passed in 2021 amid strident, competing claims that the law, depending on what you believed, either empowered voter suppression, or was intended to increase both election security and voter confidence.

State lawmakers explained their reasoning this way in the legislation, “Following the 2018 and 2020 elections, there was a significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems, with many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter suppression and many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud.”

The law passed on partisan lines, despite no significant, credible evidence that voting fraud was a real problem in Georgia. Multiple, persistent allegations, investigations, audits and vote recounts haven’t yet proved otherwise.

As we wrote in a 2021 editorial while the Georgia General Assembly considered the bill, “voters of any political leaning should back an elections system that is secure and consistently records accurate results.” We went on to write that, “Baseless assertions should not be allowed to upend sound policy. Not in a state as influential as Georgia has become.”

We believe that sentiment holds as true today.

A state as important as Georgia should not put itself in a position to be seen as limiting opportunities to vote.

Just as former Gov. Nathan Deal was wise to quietly rename a holiday named after a Confederate leader, modern Georgia should recognize that a good reputation is a valuable part of this state’s brand.

Had the law not been passed, Gen. Lee would still be resting in peace, state employees would still be enjoying a now-unnamed day off work and Georgians would be able to vote on a Saturday during this year’s important runoff election.

That hardworking Georgians will have one less day to exercise their right to vote is a disservice to them that cheapens the sweet words of praise that politicians sing to them during election years.

They deserve better than to have polling places dark on what should be a voting Saturday during the compressed runoff season.

In our 24/7 world, it can be hard for some people to find time in busy schedules to vote during the week.

Which is why Saturday voting makes sense in a way that should transcend even today’s supercharged political partisanship.

A modern, diverse, successful state deserves better.

Georgia lawmakers should find a way to fix this problem of reduced voting access when they gather next year at the Gold Dome.

To do anything else works against the promise implied by the law’s language stating that, “Elections are a public process and public participation is encouraged by all involved.”

On that final point, all sides of the aisle ought to agree.

So, lawmakers, make this right.

The Editorial Board