Saturday voting upheld in Georgia US Senate runoff

Credit: John Spink / AJC

Credit: John Spink / AJC

Court of Appeals denies emergency motion to stop voting after holidays

The Georgia Court of Appeals has denied an attempt to stop early voting on Saturday for the U.S. Senate runoff, a ruling that allows counties to open polling places after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The court’s one-sentence decision Monday evening was a victory for Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign, which along with the Democratic Party of Georgia sued to ensure the weekend voting opportunity.

The ruling rejected an appeal by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the Georgia Republican Party, who had argued that state law prohibited Saturday voting within two days of a holiday.

Raffensperger will not pursue another appeal.

“The court has worked its will. We believe this is something the General Assembly should consider clarifying to avoid confusion in the future. I hope that election workers are able to enjoy a somewhat restful holiday despite this decision,” said Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Raffensperger.

At least 11 counties plan to offer early voting this Saturday in the runoff between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. All counties in Georgia must provide early voting Monday through Friday next week, and some areas are also offering additional voting opportunities this week. Election day is Dec. 6.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The decision followed a ruling Friday by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox, who ruled against Raffensperger’s interpretation of a state law about when early voting can take place.

Raffensperger’s office had said that state law prevented early voting on Saturday because it followed two state holidays: Thanksgiving and the day afterward that until late 2015 honored the birthday of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general during the Civil War.

But plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the prohibition on Saturday voting within two days of a holiday only applied to regularly scheduled elections — not Georgia’s quick runoff election that left limited early voting opportunities.

“The relief granted by the trial court is squarely in the public interest. It ensures that thousands of voters are not denied access to advance voting on a day when their counties wish to offer it,” the plaintiffs said in a brief filed Monday.

Initially after this month’s election, Raffensperger had said that early voting in the runoff would be available on Saturday, Nov. 26, but his office later reversed course, leading to the lawsuit.

The limitation on Saturday voting after state holidays was passed in 2016, but it wasn’t an issue in runoffs until this year.

In the last runoffs for the U.S. Senate two years ago, early voting was allowed on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, the day after Christmas, when over 15,600 voters in three counties cast their ballots.

At the time, runoffs were held nine weeks after the general election, but the Republican majority in the General Assembly passed a voting law last year that shortened the runoff period to four weeks after Democrats Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their elections to the Senate, giving their party control of the chamber.

The compressed timeframe created a scheduling conflict with a state law passed in 2016 that prevented early voting on a Saturday if a holiday was within two days beforehand.

The General Assembly removed the word “runoff” from that law in 2017, which plaintiffs said was an indication that legislators wanted voting to be permitted on that Saturday.

Most of the counties that plan to offer Saturday voting are in metro areas, including in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties in the Atlanta region. A handful of rural counties will also open voting locations on Saturday, including Crawford, Screven and Terrell.

Optional early voting days now include four days this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Then early voting is available statewide five days next week until Friday, Dec. 2.