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Georgia Democrats sue to open up early voting on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend

Campaigning starts in Georgia's Senate runoff
Georgia Senate candidates start campaigning for runoff election 03:59

Georgia Democrats on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to open up early voting for the Senate runoff election over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, despite a state law that prohibits voting within two days of a holiday. 

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last week that the runoff election between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker would be held on Dec. 6. With 99% of precincts reporting, Warnock had 49.4% of the vote and Walker had 48.5%, meaning neither candidate cleared the state's 50% requirement to secure the seat without a runoff.

When the Senate runoff was first announced last week, the Secretary of State's office indicated that while the latest counties could start early voting was Monday, Nov. 28 - the week before Election Day – they would have the option to include a Saturday, Nov. 26. 

In a press conference last week, Raffensperger told reporters, "we do anticipate that some counties may likely have Saturday voting following Thanksgiving, as well as on Nov. 26." 

"We are working with the counties to find out what their plans are on this front and as soon as possible so that their voters can make the best plans," Raffensperger said. "This will be a very heavy lift for our counties because it's a four week run off period."

However, upon inspection of the state's election laws any early voting isn't allowed within two days of a holiday, and Saturday, Nov. 26 falls two days after Thanksgiving this year. The law, passed in 2016, hadn't been a problem in previous runoffs because they ran for nine weeks after Election Day instead of this year's four.

Interim Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling said their hands are tied as it's an effect of where Thanksgiving falls this year but adds "it affects everyone the same." 

He indicated the bill was bipartisan, pointing out that Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 and 2022, voted for the bill while she was in the Georgia Assembly. 

State Democrats, including Warnock, on Tuesday announced the lawsuit, which claims that "contrary to the secretary's reading of the 2016 law," the law "guarantees early voting on specific weekend days for primary and general elections and imposes conditions on that mandate, neither of which apply to runoffs, and therefore counties can hold early voting for the Senate runoff on Saturday, Nov. 26."

 "Illegal attempts to block Saturday voting are another desperate attempt by career politicians to squeeze the people out of their own democracy and to silence the voices of Georgians," Warnock's campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Tuesday. "We're aggressively fighting to protect Georgia voters' ability to vote on Saturday."

But Raffensperger maintains this challenge is political.

"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. Instead of muddying the water and pressuring counties to ignore Georgia law, Senator Warnock should be allowing county election officials to continue preparations for the upcoming runoff."

As for the Democrats' chance of success, Sterling says it's unlikely to affect voting this election, in part because many counties won't physically be able to be ready by Saturday. As of Tuesday evening, a handful of counties were still working to sign off on their final runoff ballot proofs

When to have advanced in person voting, as early voting is called in Georgia, is a county by county decision - one that is driven by both politics and logistics of being able to have the machines, ballots and staff ready. Given the short turnaround for this election, only a few counties are attempting to be open the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

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