Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) shot out a snarky statement Tuesday accusing the Warnock campaign of “muddying the water and pressuring counties to ignore Georgia law” just after the election official reversed himself on a critical day of early voting in the runoff.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Herschel Walker are headed to a December 6 runoff after neither reached 50 percent of the vote last week.
The Warnock campaign, alongside the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Georgia Democrats, filed a lawsuit Monday in Fulton County Superior Court, arguing that counties should be able to keep the polls open on Saturday, November 26.
Raffensperger himself suggested that they would be able to last week. He said that he “anticipates that some counties may likely have Saturday voting following Thanksgiving.” Gabriel Sterling, his top lieutenant, made similar comments, saying on CNN that “there’s a very good possibility that we’ll probably have voting on Saturday, November 26th, in many of the counties if they so choose and we’re planning for that right now.”
Counties are required to hold early voting from November 28 through December 2, but have the option of offering three extra days if they choose. State law bars them from offering voting the Saturday before the election; that leaves the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a crucial day.
In a November 12 bulletin to local election officials, the Secretary of State’s elections division reversed course from what Raffensperger and Sterling had said just days before.
“Advance Voting cannot occur on Thursday, November 24th (Thanksgiving Day), Friday, November 25th (Observance of State Holiday 1), or Saturday, November 26th. Advanced Voting on Saturday, November 26th is prohibited by OCGA 21-2- 385(d)(1), which states that if the second Saturday before the runoff follows a Thursday or Friday that is a state holiday, voting on that Saturday is not allowed,” it reads.
While Thanksgiving seems to be enough to nix the Saturday voting, there’s another wrinkle. The Friday state holiday is a placeholder from when Georgia formally celebrated Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s birthday. The state has since dropped the tribute, but maintained the holiday. It may have been the determining factor in Raffensperger’s reversal: the New York Times reported that “lawyers in his office later concluded that it conflicted with the state holiday.”
The Democrats argue in their lawsuit that Raffensperger is misreading the state law and that the “exception for advance voting on Saturdays falling on or after a holiday applies only to primary and general elections, not runoffs.”
They say that Raffensperger is cherry picking parts of the law to apply to runoffs and parts not to apply, adding that if they read runoffs to be included in provisions applying to primaries and general elections, he should also have instructed counties to open their polls on November 19. State law requires that polls be open the second and third Saturdays prior to primary and general elections, which would include November 19 for the runoff.
“That is not how the statute operates: if the sentence’s prohibition on holding advance voting on a Saturday after a holiday applies to runoffs, so too must its command that advance voting be held on the second and third Saturday in the first place,” they write. “To read the statute otherwise is nonsensical.”
The Democrats ask the court for an order saying that early voting on November 26 is allowed, and to stop Raffensperger and other state actors from interfering with counties’ efforts to provide voting on that day.
“If recent elections prove one thing, it’s that voters expect candidates to focus on winning at the ballot box — not at the courthouse,” Raffensperger shot back in response in his Tuesday statement. “Senator Warnock and his Democratic Party allies are seeking to change Georgia law right before an election based on their political preferences.”
Each day of early voting has taken on new importance since Republicans in the Georgia legislature last year passed a bundle of voter restrictions following the double-barrel Democratic Senate wins of Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA). In that law, they hacked the runoff election calendar in half, along with giving voters much less time to request absentee ballots and slashing the number of available dropboxes.
Read the lawsuit here via Democracy Docket: