Capital Clicks

Georgia appeals court denies GOP state election chief’s bid to ban early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving

By: - November 22, 2022 10:07 am

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, left, and Republican challenger Herschel Walker battled in a December 6 runoff. (Photo by Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)

Georgia’s Court of Appeals has rejected Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s attempt to keep Georgians from voting in the U.S. Senate runoff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The appeals court on Monday evening blocked the state’s emergency motion to nullify a Fulton County judge’s order giving Georgia counties the option to open early voting sites on Saturday, Nov. 26, which falls two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday previously named in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, filed the appeal on behalf of the secretary of state claiming that state law prohibits advanced voting on Saturdays that fall within a day after a state holiday.

The secretary of state’s spokesman said after Monday’s appeals court ruling Saturday voting can go forward without further challenge.

“The court has worked its will,” spokesman Mike Hassinger said in a statement. “We believe this is something the General Assembly should clarify to avoid confusion in the future. I hope that Georgia election workers will be able to enjoy a somewhat restful day despite this decision.”

After Monday’s ruling, voters in a few of the state’s most heavily populated counties will be able to vote in the runoff election between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker.

Both candidates failed to get the 50% of votes needed for an outright victory in the Nov. 8 midterm election, prompting a runoff that both parties are battling to win even though Democrats already won control of the Senate this month.

Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis noted on Monday that the appeals court ruled in favor of voter accessibility.

“We don’t have a decision on the merits or an explanation, but two things won out tonight at the Court of Appeals: (1) last minute changes in interpretation of state election law are disfavored and (2) there’s no irreparable harm to the state by erring on the side of voters #gapol,” Kreis said in a tweet.

In a press conference after the Nov. 8 midterm election, Raffensperger said he expected some counties to offer advance voting on Saturday. Raffensperger’s state election director sent guidelines shortly afterward stating that state law prohibits voting on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

The Georgia Democratic Party and Warnock’s campaign filed the lawsuit on Nov. 14, arguing that the ambiguous state law does not specify runoff elections and that providing more opportunities will benefit Georgians.

In the closely contested runoff, Walker may be at a disadvantage since during the early voting period, counties with strong Democratic leanings are more likely to offer weekend voting than those with Republican majorities. Georgia counties planning to open early voting precincts this Saturday include Chatham, DeKalb and Fulton. State election officials recommend voters check the website of their county election office to see when local early voting is available.

Following the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers overhauled Georgia’s voting laws in response to the unexpected loss of former President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

Georgia law specifies that in-person voting can begin as soon as possible prior to a primary and general election, but no later than the second Monday before the runoff date. Early voting sites can be open on the third Saturday of the month if a state holiday precedes the prior weekend.

The Dec. 6 runoff, however, does not fit the timeline listed in the code since the third Saturday bleeds into the midterm certification window.

This story was originally published by the Georgia Recorder, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: [email protected]. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap is a reporter for the Georgia Recorder. He has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade.