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Judge says Georgia law allows voting for Senate runoff on Saturday

A judge on Friday said Georgia law allows counties to hold early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the only possibility for a Saturday vote ahead of next month’s Senate bypoll between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. .

Warnock’s campaign, along with the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, filed a lawsuit this week Arguing that early voting should be allowed on that day. They were challenging guidance from Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that it would be illegal to conduct early voting on Saturday, November 26, the day after a state holiday.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox issued an order Friday saying Georgia law “does not specifically prohibit counties from conducting advance voting for a runoff election on Saturday, November 26, 2022.” They also barred the state from interfering with efforts to conduct early voting that day or from preventing any votes cast that day from being counted.

“We disagree with the court’s order and look forward to an expeditious appeal,” Raffensperger’s office said in an emailed statement.

During a hearing early Friday, Uzoma Nkquanta, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said last week Raffensperger and one of his top representatives had said on national television that early voting would be allowed that day. Then, Enquanta said, the secretary of state a few days later issued guidance to counties saying that would not be allowed because the law does not allow early voting the day after a state holiday. Thanksgiving and the following Friday are both state holidays.

Nkwonta argued at the hearing that the state holiday ban only applied to primary and general elections, not runoffs. Provisions in the law that direct the state’s 159 counties to begin in-person voting “as soon as possible” for a runoff, and no earlier than Monday, November 28, reinforce the idea that counties should conduct early voting on Saturday. can offer. , They said.

Nkwonta said that state lawmakers intentionally created a distinction between primary and general elections on the one hand, and runoff elections on the other. This makes sense, he argued, because of the condensed time period before runoff.

“The legislature provided voting opportunities that the state now wants to take back,” Nconta said. “It’s illegal.”

Charlene McGowan, an attorney for the state, rejected the claim that Raffensperger was co-opting parts of the law.

“This is a legal issue, this is not a policy,” she told the judge. “The issue is, what does Georgia law require?”

McGowan argued that there are two types of elections in Georgia: primary elections and general elections. A runoff is a continuation of one of those two types of elections and, therefore, does not have separate rules to allow early voting after a holiday.

Cox disagreed, saying that the runoff “is not just a continuation of a primary or (general) election, but is in fact its own distinct phenomenon.”

Warnock and Walker were December 6 forced into runoff Because neither of the two got a majority in the mid-term elections held this month.

Under Georgia’s 2021 election law, there will be only four weeks between the general election and the runoff — with Thanksgiving in between. Many Georgians will be offered only five weeks of early in-person voting, starting on 28 November.

The lawsuit states that the state’s interpretation of the law would hurt Warnock especially because Democrats promote early voting more than Republicans.

It’s unclear how many counties will scramble to offer Saturday’s balloting. Counties are required to provide public notice seven days before starting early voting. But Cox barred the state from interfering with the counties’ efforts to provide early voting that day because of any failure to provide the required notice.

Counties also may not be interested in offering Saturday voting, or they may not have enough time to organize and schedule polling personnel. As of Thursday, only nine predominantly Democratic urban counties had planned Sunday voting, according to Associated Press reporting. Six are in the Atlanta area and the others are home to some of the state’s other large cities.

Some counties plan to offer early voting on Tuesday and Wednesday, while others have said they could not get around in time to offer voting in the days before Thanksgiving.

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