Holidays and Saturday voting: What does Georgia election law say?

Voting may be allowed in some counties the second Sunday before the Senate runoff and now on Saturday, too

In a campaign ad before the Nov. 8 election, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock warned a runoff with Republican Herschel Walker would mean “I could be interrupting your Thanksgiving.”

As it turns out, Thanksgiving and a second state holiday could “interrupt” runoff voters from casting ballots on Saturday, Nov. 26. Warnock and Georgia Democrats are challenging state laws that ban early Saturday voting because it falls too close to a state holiday — two holidays in fact.

ExploreUPDATE: Judge allows counties to offer early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving

The dispute involves provisions in state election law approved years apart, in 2016 and 2021.

The holidays are Thanksgiving and Friday, Nov. 25, a state holiday that is now called “State Holiday” but formerly marked a delayed birthday observance for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was born in January. The holiday on the day after Thanksgiving was renamed in 2015, as reported by the AJC’s Greg Bluestein.

What does state law say about runoffs and holidays?

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially announced Saturday voting as an option during the Dec. 6 Georgia Senate runoff, but later said state law bars early voting during the two days after a holiday. The lawsuit filed on Tuesday calls that a misinterpretation.

Senate Bill 202, Georgia’s sweeping voting law update approved in 2021, shortened the runoff period to four weeks after the general election instead of the nine weeks that Georgia saw for the two U.S. Senate runoffs after the 2020 election. The runoff this year is in December instead of January.

According to the lawsuit, the state’s claim about Saturday voting is based on changes to election law in 2016.

The holiday rules are from SB 199, signed by the Gov. Nathan Deal in April 2016. The legislation allows early voting on the second Saturday before an election, with some restrictions. If that Saturday follows a holiday on Thursday or Friday, then the early voting would move earlier to the third Saturday. The lawsuit contends this part of the law applies to primaries and elections, not to runoffs. But the provisions are wrapped in complex legal language that may need a court to sort out.

UPDATE: On Friday, Nov. 18, a Fulton County judge ruled that Saturday voting is OK two days after Thanksgiving this year

The third Saturday, Nov. 19, is apparently not an option. Public notice requirements, voting machine testing and election certification deadlines mean that early voting cannot begin until Tuesday, Nov. 22 at the soonest.

Early voting must be offered in all counties Monday, Nov. 28, through Friday, Dec. 2. Counties can choose to offer additional early voting dates the week beforehand. Optional dates are Tuesday, Nov. 22; Wednesday, Nov. 23; and Sunday, Nov. 27.

Return to the AJC Politics page for updates on the Georgia Senate runoff from reporter Mark Niesse and the AJC Politics team.