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Judge allows Saturday voting in Ga.’s Senate runoff after Warnock suit

The ruling is a victory for Democrats and voting rights advocates, who had argued that guidance from the state unfairly disenfranchised voters

Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) at an Atlanta campaign stop Friday. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA — A Georgia judge ruled that early voting can take place on a Saturday in the highly watched Senate runoff election between Democratic incumbent Raphael G. Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

In a ruling Friday afternoon ruling, Judge Thomas A. Cox Jr. found that a provision of Georgia’s election code cited by the secretary of state’s office as barring Saturday voting “does not specifically prohibit counties from conducting advanced voting on Saturday, November 26, 2022, for a runoff election.”

The court further noted that “there is an absence of settled law on this specific issue” in Georgia but that the intent of the state legislature was “obvious” in omitting any specific reference to a runoff election in the law.

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The ruling is a victory for Democrats and voting rights advocates, who had argued that the laws in question were vague and did not apply to a runoff election.

Officials in the secretary of state’s office had initially ruled that Saturday voting could take place in this year’s runoff election before backtracking after discovering a provision of the election code that barred voting in the days after a holiday. The Saturday at issue in the case would be two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday that until 2015 honored Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Democrats brought the lawsuit shortly after the state issued guidance to counties advising against Saturday voting.

“I am delighted by the judge’s ruling. Obviously, I think it was the right call,” Warnock said at a rally on the campus of the Georgia Tech on Friday evening. “We should want every eligible voter to have an opportunity to vote, and not having Saturday voting disproportionately impacts working-class people in an adverse way.”

“I want to encourage everybody to vote early and make sure your voice is heard,” he added.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said the ruling should not be the end of the road on this issue.

“We disagree with the court’s order and look forward to a prompt appeal,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

The decision on whether to appeal the case will be made by Republican Chris Carr, the state’s attorney general. The appeals court could issue a stay order to prevent counties from allowing voting on Nov. 26.

Walker’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The ruling doesn’t necessarily mean that Saturday voting will take place; counties across Georgia must decide whether they will hold early-voting hours on Nov. 26, requiring more time and resources from poll workers and election staffers. More litigation is also possible if the case is appealed.

“The judge very clearly explained that the text, structure, and history of the election code did not square with the state’s tortured, literal interpretation of the law to block Saturday voting,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor of constitutional law and legal history at Georgia State University. “It doesn’t make sense to apply the same standards for a short runoff election as we would a general election with multiple weeks of early voting.”

Chatham, Cobb, Dekalb and Fulton counties already passed trigger policies that would instruct election workers to conduct Saturday voting if the court ruled it legal.

Sabrina Rodriguez contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.