Georgia Senate runoff: Judge rules early voting possible Saturday after Thanksgiving



CNN

A Georgia judge on Friday ruled to allow early voting in the Nov. 26 Senate runoff.

In a written decision, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox said that after “reviewing the relocation papers, the attorneys’ arguments and the references to legal authority,” he found that Georgia law es do not prohibit keeping polling stations open on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The vote went in favor of Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, who will face Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a December 6 runoff. Warnock’s campaign had spearheaded the Democratic lawsuit challenging state leadership against voting that day.

State election officials argued in a hearing earlier Friday that early voting is not allowed on the Saturday after Thanksgiving because it violates state law that prohibits voting on Saturday if the preceding Thursday or Friday is a state holiday.

“The court finds that the failure to hold the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the plaintiffs, their members and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” Cox wrote in the conclusion to his ruling.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, disagreed with the judge’s decision.

“We disagree with the court’s order and look forward to an immediate appeal,” his office said in a statement.

Earlier on Friday, Cox acknowledged that “time was of the essence.” Over the course of the 90-minute hearing, the judge asked both sides questions but gave little indication of how he was basing the case.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this week by Warnock’s campaign, which joined the campaign arm of the Georgia Democratic Party and Senate Democrats after Raffensperger’s office issued guidance barring counties from offering early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

State election officials pointed to a part of the election law that prohibits early voting on Saturday if the preceding Thursday or Friday is a state holiday. Democrats argued that the provision did not apply to runoff elections. They have pointed to comments from state officials earlier this month suggesting counties could stop early voting this Saturday, as well as how it was being offered on the Saturday after Christmas in 2020.

“This last-minute change is not only legally wrong, but also implies a fundamental right of our democracy,” Uzoma Nkwonta, a Democrat attorney, said at Friday’s hearing.

Charlene McGowan, a Georgia assistant attorney general who defended state officials’ interpretation of the law, said the law has changed since 2020. She said it was an “unfortunate turn of events” that the calendar fell in such a way that counties would not be allowed to offer an early vote this Saturday, but that the court’s job is not to decide the best policy, as these decision will be left to the legislature.

Cox’s questions included questions about what legal weight he should give to comments by state officials, who previously indicated counties could allow an early vote on Nov. 26. He also asked whether the state’s policy could be considered a “reasonable” interpretation of the law. The Democrats’ attorney argued that was not the case, while Georgia’s attorney said it was both the reasonable and “clear” interpretation of the law.

“Nobody is being denied the right to vote here,” McGowan said.

The ban on early voting on Saturdays that fall on a Thursday or Friday national holiday dates back to a law passed in 2016. In 2021, the Republican-led legislature significantly shortened the runoff, ending December 6 this year.

In addition to the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, Georgia also observes a national holiday on Friday.

This headline and story were updated with additional developments on Friday.

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