Early voting

Early in-person voting began Oct. 12 for municipal elections in Moultrie, Berlin, Ellenton and Doerun. It will end on Friday ahead of the Nov. 2 general election.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — Some counties in Georgia will offer Saturday voting this weekend in the runoff election for one of the state’s Senate seats, but Colquitt County will not be one of them.

Instead, the hours of early voting will be extended from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday of next week, Nov. 28-Dec. 2, for local voters to cast their ballots ahead of the election.

Early voting will take place in Room 201 on the second floor of the Colquitt County Courthouse Annex.

Voters can also cast ballots at their regular voting precincts 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Dec. 6.

Voters across the state will choose between Republican Herschel Junior Walker and Democrat Raphael Warnock, who has been senator since he defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a similar runoff almost two years ago. Walker and Warnock faced off in the Nov. 8 general election but neither received the necessary 50% plus one vote to win outright. Warnock received 49.44% of the 3,935,924 votes cast, Walker received 48.49%, and a third candidate, Libertarian Chase Oliver, received 2.07%.

Early voting has been a fixture of Georgia elections for several years, but a law passed last year limits the time available for early voting prior to a runoff election. It also mandates Saturday voting during regular elections, and many expected Saturday voting for the runoff. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially said Saturday voting would take place Nov. 26.

Later, the Secretary of State’s office released guidance that did not allow for Saturday voting. State law does not allow an election on the day following a state holiday, the office said, and both Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving) and the day after are state holidays.

Warnock’s campaign, along with the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, filed a lawsuit last week arguing that early voting should be allowed that day.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox on Friday issued an order saying Georgia law “does not specifically prohibit counties from conducting advanced voting on Saturday, November 26, 2022, for a runoff election.” He also prohibited the state from interfering in efforts to hold early voting that day or preventing any votes cast that day from being counted.

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

During a hearing earlier Friday, Uzoma Nkwonta, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that the state holiday restriction applies only to primary and general elections, not to runoffs.

Provisions in the law that directs the state’s 159 counties to open early in-person voting “as soon as possible” for a runoff, and no later than Monday, Nov. 28, reinforce the idea that counties can choose to offer early voting that Saturday, he said.

State lawmakers intentionally created a distinction between primary and general elections on one hand and runoff elections on the other, Nkwonta said.

That makes sense, he reasoned, because of the condensed time period before a runoff.

“The legislature has provided voting opportunities that the state now seeks to withdraw,” Nkwonta said. “That is unlawful.”

Charlene McGowan, a lawyer for the state, rejected assertions that Raffensperger was cherry-picking parts of the law.

“This is a legal issue, it’s not a policy one,” she told the judge. “The issue is what does Georgia law require?”

McGowan argued that there are two types of elections in Georgia: primary elections and general elections. Runoffs are a continuation of one of those two types of election and, therefore, do not have different rules for allowing early voting after a holiday.

Cox disagreed saying that a runoff “is not merely a continuation of a primary or (general) election but is in fact it’s own distinct event.”

Under Georgia’s 2021 election law, there will be only four weeks between the general election and the runoff — with Thanksgiving in the middle. Many Georgians will be offered only five weekdays of early in-person voting beginning Nov. 28.

The lawsuit says the state’s interpretation of the law would hurt Warnock in particular because Democrats tend to push early voting more than Republicans.

It’s not clear how many counties will scramble to offer Saturday voting. Counties are supposed to give public notice seven days before starting early voting. But Cox prohibited the state from interfering in counties’ efforts to provide early voting that day due to any failure to provide the required notice.

Counties may also not be interested in offering Saturday voting, or may not have enough time to organize and schedule poll workers. As of Thursday, only nine predominantly Democratic urban counties planned Sunday voting, according to Associated Press reporting. Six are in the Atlanta area and the others are home to some of the state’s other bigger cities.

Some counties plan to offer early voting Tuesday and Wednesday, while others have said they couldn’t mobilize in time to offer voting on those pre-Thanksgiving days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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