Fulton County Judge Thomas A. Cox handed a legal victory to Georgia Democrats and Raphael Warnock’s campaign on Friday. The Georgia Secretary of State cannot prohibit counties from voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving as is currently stated in Georgia election law.
The Democrat Party of Georgia sued Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office to allow early voting on Nov. 26, the only Saturday in the early voting period for the run-off race between incumbent Democrat Senator Warnock and Hershel Walker, his Republican challenger. Georgia election law reforms put into effect by state legislation shortened early voting in a run-off election to a week. According to the Georgia.gov website, early voting begins the 4th Monday before the runoff election date. In this race, early voting begins on Monday, November 28. However, individual counties can begin earlier and are allowed to extend their voting hours. As an example, Fulton and Gwinnett counties in the metro Atlanta area have committed to beginning early voting on Sunday, November 27. Early voting hours will be extended for the week – from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. This year’s early voting schedule includes Thanksgiving day.
Counties cannot hold early voting on a federal holiday or two days afterward. This eliminates both Friday and Saturday. Some, but not all, counties offer early voting on Sunday. The Friday after Thanksgiving is a state holiday – formerly known as the celebration of General Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Now it is considered a generic state holiday. Nonetheless, it affects the early voting calendar.
When the question was first brought up, Secretary of State Raffensperger, a Republican, gave the go-ahead to early voting on Saturday, November 26. Then his office reversed the decision. As a side note, this is a law that was passed in 2016 with bipartisan support. The change from Raffensperger’s office was in recognition of the revised schedule. State Democrats and the Warnock campaign filed a lawsuit to allow Saturday early voting. The judge ruled in their favor.
Democrats and Warnock’s campaign filed suit challenging Raffensperger’s determination, and Judge Thomas A. Cox agreed with their arguments in a ruling late Friday afternoon. “The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” the judge wrote.
It’s really not a shock that a Fulton County judge has ruled with the Democrats in order to bypass state election law.
Attorneys for the Democrats and Warnock argued the section of the law Raffensperger cited applies to primaries and general elections, but not to runoffs. Cox agreed.
Voting rights groups have pushed counties in Georgia to open up early in-person voting on Nov. 22, 23 and 27. As of Friday, at least nine of the state’s 159 counties had opened up Nov. 27 for early voting, and a smaller handful opened it up for Nov. 22 and 23.
Raffensperger acknowledged that Warnock and Democrats are trying to change state law to their benefit.
“Based on the Court’s ruling, counties may provide advance voting on Saturday, November 26, 2022. Further, Defendant is hereby enjoined from interfering in efforts by counties to provide for advance voting on Saturday, November 26, 2022,” Cox Jr. wrote in his opinion.
In a statement following the decision, Raffensperger said that Warnock and Democrats are attempting to change election laws in the state.
“Senator Warnock and his Democratic Party allies are seeking to change Georgia law right before an election based on their political preferences,” Raffensperger said. “Instead of muddying the water and pressuring counties to ignore Georgia law, Senator Warnock should be allowing county election officials to continue preparations for the upcoming runoff.”
Warnock’s campaign is pleased, as you’d expect.
Warnock’s campaign and the state Democratic Party said in a statement that the decision is a win for voters.
“Allowing for Saturday early voting is a win for every Georgia voter, but especially for workers and students who will have a greater opportunity to make their voices heard in this election. We look forward to counties announcing that they will provide Georgians the opportunity to cast their ballots on Saturday, November 26th,” the statement reads.
It looks like this is a matter for the state legislature to take up in their next session. Otherwise, in future run-offs, this will be repeated. What is the point of having an election law that isn’t enforced? Democrats were running roughshod over election laws during the pandemic across the country. It looks like they’ve become accustomed to doing so.
The run-off race is scheduled for December 6.