ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia counties will be allowed to hold early voting this Saturday in the U.S. Senate runoff election between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, under a Wednesday ruling from the state Supreme Court.
The court issued a unanimous, one-sentence ruling declining to review or stay a ruling by the state's intermediate appellate court. Republicans had objected to the Saturday voting.
Warnock and Walker, the former University of Georgia and NFL football star, were forced into a Dec. 6 runoff because neither won a majority in the midterm election this month. Early in-person voting ends on Dec. 2, the Friday before Election Day, which means that Nov. 26 would be the only possible Saturday when early voting could be held.
At issue is a section of Georgia law that says early in-person voting is not allowed on a Saturday if the Thursday or Friday preceding it is a holiday. The state and Republican groups argued that means voting shouldn't be allowed this Saturday, Nov. 26, because Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is a state holiday. Warnock's campaign and Democratic groups argued that the prohibition applies only to primaries and general elections, not runoff elections.
Georgia’s 2021 election law compressed the time period between the general election and the runoff to four weeks, and Thanksgiving falls in the middle. Many Georgians will be offered only five weekdays of early in-person voting beginning Nov. 28.
Eighteen of the state's 159 counties — including six of the 10 most populous — planned to offer voting on Saturday, interim Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling said on Twitter late Tuesday. Some counties plan to offer early voting Sunday, ahead of the required start Monday.
After initially saying in a television interview that voting would be allowed Nov. 26, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger then issued guidance to county election officials saying it is not allowed. Warnock's campaign, along with the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sued last week to challenge that guidance.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox issued an order Friday saying state law does not prohibit early voting this coming Saturday. The state appealed that ruling Monday and asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to stay the lower court ruling. The Court of Appeals issued a single-sentence order late Monday declining to stay the lower court's order.
State officials accepted that ruling and said they would not pursue further appeals. But the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee, which had been allowed to join the case as intervenors, on Tuesday appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Kate Brumback, The Associated Press