WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Saturday, Nov. 12, the Georgia secretary of state’s office sent guidance to county elections officials about the expected timeline for early voting for the upcoming runoff election, prohibiting voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving despite stating otherwise in the days prior. During the Nov. 8 midterm elections, neither Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) nor his Republican challenger Herschel Walker garnered over 50% of the vote total, sending the two candidates to a runoff election on Dec. 6, 2022. Following the 2020 election, Warnock similarly faced a close Senate runoff that took place in early January 2021. In the interceding year, the Republican-controlled Legislature changed the timeframe for a runoff election in Senate Bill 202, moving the runoff date from early January (on the Tuesday of the ninth week following the general election) to early December (on the 28th day after the general election).
The recent guidance states that advance voting — the terminology Georgia uses for early in-person voting — “must begin as soon as possible prior to the runoff [on Dec. 6, 2022] and no later than Monday, November 28th.” Notably, counties can hold advance voting prior to Thanksgiving, but not on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 24) or the day after Thanksgiving (Friday, Nov. 25) in observance of the state holiday. Curiously, the guidance also states that counties are prohibited from holding advance voting on Saturday, Nov. 26. The relevant section of state law (included in Senate Bill 199, passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2016) reads: “if such second Saturday follows a public and legal holiday occurring on the Thursday or Friday immediately preceding such second Saturday…such advance voting shall not be held on such second Saturday.” The terminology “second Saturday” refers to the Saturday two weeks prior to a given election.
Despite this statutory language, the secretary of state’s office was publicly giving conflicting messages just days prior to the guidance. During a news conference on Nov. 9, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) stated that “some counties may likely have Saturday voting following Thanksgiving.” Similarly, on that same day, Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state’s chief operating officer, reiterated on CNN that “there’s a very good possibility we will probably have voting on Saturday Nov. 26 in many of the counties if they so choose.” According to the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution, the secretary of state’s office claims it was unfamiliar with the law until later on. “We all thought there was going to be Saturday voting until we looked at the law really closely,” said Sterling. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia disagrees with the office’s interpretation of state law.