Georgia Supreme Court upholds Saturday voting in US Senate runoff

Polls will open Saturday in 24 counties across Georgia

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal by the Republican Party that sought to prevent early voting on Saturday in the runoff for the U.S. Senate.

The brief ruling by the state’s highest court Wednesday clears the way for the weekend voting opportunity in 24 counties that plan to open polling places two days after the Thanksgiving holiday. Early voting will be required statewide from Monday through Friday next week.

The decision is a victory in a lawsuit filed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign as he’s trying to increase turnout ahead of a runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.

Opposition to Saturday voting came from the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee, which had asked the court to prevent what it called “illegal advance voting.” Republicans alleged that state law prohibited Saturday voting if a holiday was within two days beforehand.

In this case, the state holidays were Thanksgiving and the day afterward that until late 2015 honored the birthday of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general during the Civil War.

ExploreFind Georgia Senate early voting dates and locations for your county

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Warnock said voters are the winners after court decisions allowing Saturday voting.

“Saturday and Sunday voting is not just a convenience. For a lot of people, it’s a necessity,” Warnock said.

The debate over Saturday voting began when Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially said it would be allowed but then his office reversed course and issued guidance that said it was prohibited.

Warnock’s campaign and the Democratic Party of Georgia sued, saying voters who work all week deserve time to vote on the weekend. Early voting is also permitted on Sunday.

A Fulton County judge ruled last week that the ban on Saturday voting after a holiday didn’t apply to Georgia’s runoffs, and the state Court of Appeals denied an initial appeal Monday. Raffensperger declined to appeal further, but the Republican Party continued to pursue the case.

The Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t explain its reasoning for denying the appeal but noted that all justices concurred with the decision. The court includes eight justices who were appointed by Republican governors and one who was originally appointed by a Democratic governor to a lower court over 20 years ago. All have won elections since then.

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

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.

The Republican Party alleged that Democrats were trying to tilt the election in their favor because many of the areas offering Saturday voting are counties with Democratic majorities, including Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. But several Republican-leaning counties are also providing Saturday voting, such as Bartow, Mitchell, Walton and Ware.

“Georgians deserve better than Democrats scheming to change election laws in the eleventh hour,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said. “This is exactly why the RNC, NRSC and GAGOP have lawyers on the ground in Georgia: to fight Democrat election violations as they happen.”

The Democratic plaintiffs in the case argued that Republicans were the ones causing a disruption.

“If anything, it is the Intervenors’ eleventh-hour request that threatens to create confusion, as many counties — and now the secretary’s office as well — have spent days promoting Saturday voting to Georgians,” they said in a court filing Wednesday.

During the general election, Walker won 56% of the election day vote and Warnock received 54% of early and absentee votes. Overall, Warnock held a small lead but neither candidate received over 50% of all ballots cast in the three-candidate race, forcing a runoff.

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

Before an election overhaul law passed last year, runoffs were held nine weeks after the general election. The Republican majority in the General Assembly 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 the holiday voting prohibition.

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

Optional early voting days included four days this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Then early voting is available statewide five days next week until Friday, Dec. 2. State law requires early voting to end the Friday before election day on Dec. 6.

Early voting locations and hours are available through the state’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.


Early voting dates before U.S. Senate runoff

All counties: Monday through Friday, Nov. 28 to Dec. 2

Optional: Tuesday, Nov. 22; Wednesday, Nov. 23; Saturday, Nov. 26; Sunday, Nov. 27. County election boards can decide whether to offer early voting on these days.

Twenty-four counties including Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett will open polling places on Saturday and Sunday.

Voters can find early voting locations and hours through the state’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov.