Two counties, DeKalb and Douglas, hosted some advance in-person voting prior to Thanksgiving. But in Fulton and about two dozen other jurisdictions across Georgia, Saturday marked the first day of early voting for the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoff.
From Atlanta (home of the Democratic incumbent Rev. Raphael Warnock’s Ebenezer Baptist Church) to Athens (where Republican Herschel Walker built his football fame) and beyond, folks appeared to be taking full advantage.
“We’ve been stuck in lines that were like four hours long before,” Katie McCarthy, 36, said at Atlanta’s Joan P. Garner Library at Ponce de Leon, where the line to vote wrapped around one side of the building. “So we knew we had Saturday open and if we needed to wait we’d be able to.”
The opportunity, though, almost didn’t materialize.
Shortly after it became clear a runoff would be necessary, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Saturday advance voting would be allowed. But he later reversed course, contending that state law prohibited voting within two days after a holiday.
Warnock and the Democratic Party of Georgia filed a lawsuit arguing that the law did not apply to runoffs, and a Fulton County judge agreed. Raffensperger’s office then appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which upheld the initial ruling.
The secretary of state’s office relinquished from there but the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee did not. They asked the Georgia Supreme Court to weigh in.
Justices unanimously rejected the appeal. And several counties, including most of metro Atlanta, moved forward with Saturday voting.
Impressive lines were reported throughout the morning — and in some places, only grew from there.
Wait times at the DeKalb County elections office eclipsed two hours. A huge line of voters was already gathered in Marietta when Cobb County opened polls at noon.
“It was more convenient,” Atlanta voter Harry Johnson said. “Working, it’s hard to vote when you get off at 5 o’clock and try to reach here and you’ve got a thousand people in line.”
Walker did not have any public campaign events announced in advance on Saturday. Warnock had a series of stops, including an afternoon rally in Sandy Springs with several local officials and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Warnock mentioned the lawsuit toward the end of his stump speech, saying “we had to take them to court just so you could vote today.”
In a press briefing afterward, he called securing Saturday voting a win for democracy.
”People, especially working people, wage earners, are the ones I was thinking about,” Warnock said. “Who may not have the luxury of voting during a weekday. This gives them one more opportunity, and the people are once again voting with their feet. They’re showing us that they need this. They’re using it.”
As of 1:30 p.m., Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office, reported that more than 11,100 votes had been cast in Fulton. More than 7,500 people had voted in Gwinnett and about 3,400 in DeKalb. Just under 1,500 ballots had been cast in Cobb.
Many counties will also offer voting on Sunday. Every Georgia jurisdiction is mandated to have early voting Monday through Friday.
Where to vote: locations and hours