Georgia faces suit over ban on Saturday voting before U.S. Senate runoff

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Democratic Sen. Warnock’s lawsuit objects to limits after Thanksgiving and state holiday

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and the Democratic Party of Georgia filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to reverse the state’s prohibition on early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the state holiday formerly known as Robert E. Lee’s Birthday.

The suit urges a judge to declare that Saturday voting is allowed in the runoff for the U.S. Senate, contrary to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s assertion that state law bans it during the two days after a holiday.

“This is not only wrong, but it’s a misinterpretation of the law,” said Warnock, who faces Republican Herschel Walker in a runoff on Dec. 6. “It means that workers who punch a clock may not be able to make it to the polls. ... We should be striving to give the people of Georgia fair access to the ballot box.”

Walker’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

ExploreHow the U.S. Senate runoff will work in Georgia

Raffensperger said Warnock shouldn’t pressure and confuse county election workers as they’re trying to prepare for the runoff.

“If recent elections prove one thing, it’s that voters expect candidates to focus on winning at the ballot box — not at the courthouse,” Raffensperger said. “Sen. Warnock and his Democratic Party allies are seeking to change Georgia law right before an election based on their political preferences.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Under Georgia’s voting law passed last year, runoffs are held four weeks after the general election. In previous years, runoffs were scheduled nine weeks after the initial election, as in 2020, when Democrats Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their Senate seats.

An older law passed in 2016 restricts Saturday voting if there’s a holiday within two days beforehand, but the lawsuit alleges that changes to Georgia statutes since then indicate that the limitation only applies to regularly scheduled elections — not runoffs.

Five weekdays of early voting are required across Georgia before the runoff, less than the 17 days of early voting mandated before general and primary elections.

County governments have the option of offering additional early voting days, but the secretary of state’s office recently issued a memo informing counties that those days must exclude Saturday, Nov. 26. Optional early voting days include Tuesday, Nov. 22; Wednesday, Nov. 23; and Sunday, Nov. 27.

“It’s a bipartisan issue: All voters will be looking to vote around the Thanksgiving holiday because they have time off from work, and we believe that the state should make that possible,” said Hillary Holley, executive director for the domestic worker organization Care in Action, which advocates for voting rights.

For decades until late 2015, Georgia had a state holiday on the day after Thanksgiving memorializing Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general during the Civil War.

Gov. Nathan Deal changed the day’s name to a more neutral title, “State Holiday,” which is still observed on the same day of the calendar.

The secretary of state’s office has said the timing of both the state holiday and Thanksgiving prevent early voting on the following Saturday.

Raffensperger initially said after Election Day that voters would have a Saturday voting opportunity before the runoff, but he reversed course last weekend based on how attorneys for his office read the law.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege the secretary of state is misreading the law and limiting a critical voting opportunity.

There was no objection to early voting on a Saturday before the last U.S. Senate runoffs two years ago, even though that day also came immediately after a holiday.

Over 15,600 voters cast their ballots on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Dodge, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, according to state election data.

Voting rights organizations urged county election officials Tuesday to offer as many early voting times as possible.

Election boards in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties voted Tuesday to offer early voting from Sunday, Nov. 27, to Friday, Dec. 2. In addition, DeKalb plans to open an early voting location on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties also voted to offer early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26, if Warnock’s lawsuit is successful and voting locations are available. Early voting is prohibited the weekend before election day, according to state law.


Early voting dates before U.S. Senate runoff

Required: Monday through Friday, Nov. 28 to Dec. 2

Optional: Tuesday, Nov. 22; Wednesday, Nov. 23; Sunday, Nov. 27. County election boards can decide whether to offer early voting on these days.