Raphael Warnock’s campaign took Georgia to court on Tuesday after the state said it would not offer an early vote on Saturday for the closely watched second round in which Warnock will seek re-election to the U.S. Senate.
The lawsuit challenges the state’s interpretation of a law banning early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving is also a holiday in Georgia, originally commemorating Robert E Lee, the Confederate Civil War general. In 2015, state officials dropped Lee’s name and began simply recognizing the day as a “state holiday.”
Advocates for Warnock’s campaign argued that the voting ban applies only to primaries and general elections, not runoffs, which have a much shorter voting period. Last year, Republicans in Georgia passed a law shortening the runoff period from nine weeks to four weeks. But the shortened election period conflicts with state law that prohibits early voting around holidays.
The state is “mistaking” and “cherry-picking” provisions of the law that don’t apply to runoffs, lawyers for Warnock’s campaign wrote in a complaint, which was joined by the Georgia Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The insistence of the secretary that provinces should not hold a preliminary vote on November 26 therefore finds no support in the law and is contrary to [the statute’s] demand that the provinces start voting as soon as possible for the second round on December 6,” it reads.
The lawsuit asks a judge to rule that state law does not prohibit counties from voting early on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and to order the state not to take any action that would prevent them from doing so.
Under Georgia law, counties are allowed early voting “as soon as possible” after the state confirms the results of the general election, with a mandatory period of November 28 to December 2. State law also prohibits early Saturday voting on the Saturday before a runoff election, Dec. 3.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially said he thought some counties would vote early on Saturday, but his agency changed course and said it was banned.
“It is not our choice. It is literally written in the black letter law that the Saturday after a holiday cannot be used for early voting,” Gabriel Sterling, a deputy deputy secretary of state, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We all thought there would be a vote on Saturday until we looked at the law very closely.”
Gerald Griggs, the president of the Georgia NAACP, said a Confederate holiday should not block voting.
A coalition of civil rights groups separately sent a letter to all of Georgia’s 159 counties on Tuesday, urging them to offer at least three additional days of early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., which Georgia law sees fit. of the provinces is allowed. The coalition urged counties to offer ballots on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday.
“If you only offer advance voting on the five days required by law (which, as noted above, are limited to weekdays), there is a significant risk that many voters will be unable to participate due to business day commitments,” attorneys for NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU of Georgia wrote in the letter. “The lack of voting opportunities on weekends or evenings is particularly concerning for voters of color, who may be able to take less time off work to vote.”
Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, tweeted Tuesday that Fulton County, home to Atlanta and the most populous county in the state, had agreed to early voting the Sunday after Thanksgiving. She also said that Gwinnett County, one of the largest and most diverse counties in the state, had also agreed to vote early on Sunday.