ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal by the Republican Party that sought to prevent early voting on Saturday in the runoff for U.S. Senate.
The brief ruling by the state’s highest court Wednesday clears the way for the weekend voting opportunity in at least 19 counties that plan to open polling places two days after the Thanksgiving holiday. Early voting will be required statewide from Monday through Friday next week.
The decision is a victory in a lawsuit filed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign as he’s trying to increase turnout ahead of a runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.
Opposition to Saturday voting came from the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee, which had asked the court to prevent what it called “illegal advance voting.” Republicans alleged that state law prohibits Saturday voting if a holiday is within two days beforehand.
In this case, the holidays were Thanksgiving and the day afterward that until late 2015 honored the birthday of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general during the Civil War.
Warnock said voters are the winners after court decisions allowing Saturday voting.
“Saturday and Sunday voting is not just a convenience. For a lot of people, it’s a necessity,” Warnock said.
The debate over Saturday voting began after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially said it would be allowed but then his office reversed course and issued guidance that said it was prohibited.
Warnock’s campaign and the Democratic Party of Georgia sued, saying voters who work all week deserve time to vote on the weekend. Early voting is also permitted on Sunday.
A Fulton County judge ruled last week that the ban on Saturday voting after a holiday didn’t apply to Georgia’s runoffs, and the Court of Appeals denied an initial appeal Monday. Raffensperger declined to appeal further, but the Republican Party continued to pursue the case.
The Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t explain its reasoning for denying the appeal but noted that all justices concurred with the decision. The court includes eight justices who were appointed by Republican governors and one who was originally appointed by a Democratic governor to a lower court over 20 years ago. All have won elections since then.
In the last runoffs for the U.S. Senate two years ago, early voting was allowed on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, the day after Christmas, when over 15,600 voters in three counties cast their ballots.
The Republican Party alleged that Democrats were trying to tilt the election in their favor because most of the counties offering Saturday voting have Democratic majorities, including Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. But several Republican-leaning counties are also providing Saturday voting, such as Mitchell, Walton and Ware.
“Georgians deserve better than Democrats scheming to change election laws in the eleventh hour,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “This is exactly why the RNC, NRSC, and GAGOP have lawyers on the ground in Georgia: to fight Democrat election violations as they happen.” The Democratic plaintiffs in the case argued that Republicans were the ones causing a disruption.
“If anything, it is the Intervenors’ eleventh-hour request that threatens to create confusion, as many counties — and now the secretary’s office as well — have spent days promoting Saturday voting to Georgians,” according to a court filing Wednesday.
During the general election, Walker won 56% of the Election Day vote and Warnock received 54% of early and absentee votes. Overall, Warnock held a small lead but neither candidate received over 50% of all ballots cast in the three-candidate race, forcing a runoff.
The limitation on Saturday voting after state holidays was approved in 2016, but it wasn’t an issue in runoffs until this year.
Information for this article was contributed by Greg Bluestein of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.