Debate on Saturday’s vote began after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially said it was allowed, but then his office reversed course and issued guidance saying it was forbidden.
Warnock’s campaign and the Georgia Democratic Party sued, saying voters who work all week deserve polling hours on a Saturday.
A Fulton County judge ruled last week that the Saturday post-holiday ban on voting doesn’t apply to the Georgia runoff, and the appeals court on Monday denied a first appeal. Raffensperger declined to appeal further, but the Republican Party continued to pursue the case.
The Georgia Supreme Court did not explain its reasons for denying the appeal. The court includes eight judges appointed by Republican governors and one originally appointed to a lower court by a Democratic governor over 20 years ago. Since then, all have won their re-elections.
The last U.S. Senate runoff two years ago allowed early voting on Saturday, December 26, 2020, the day after Christmas, when over 15,600 voters cast their ballots in three districts.
The Republican Party claimed that Democrats were trying to tip the election in their favor because most counties offering Saturday elections are in large Democratic-majority counties, including Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. But several Republican-leaning counties also offer Saturday voting, such as Mitchell, Walton, and Ware.
“Georgians deserve better than Democrats who want to change election laws at the eleventh hour,” said Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel. “This is exactly why the RNC, NRSC and GAGOP have attorneys on the ground in Georgia: to fight Democrat election violations as soon as they happen.”
The Democratic plaintiffs in the case argued that Republicans were the ones who caused disruption.
“If anything, it is the interveners’ motion at the eleventh hour that threatens to create confusion, as many districts – and now the Secretariat – have spent days promoting Saturday’s vote among Georgians,” reads in a court filing on Wednesday.
During the general election, Walker won 56% of the Election Day vote and Warnock received 54% of the early and absentee ballots. Overall, Warnock had a small lead, but neither candidate received more than 50% of all ballots cast in the three-candidate race, forcing a runoff.
The restriction on voting on Saturdays after state holidays was approved in 2016 but was not an issue in runoffs until this year.
Run-off elections were held nine weeks after the federal election, ahead of the passage of a law revising state elections last year. The Republican majority in the General Assembly shortened the runoff to four weeks after Democrats Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their Senate elections, giving their party control of the chamber.
The compressed time frame led to a scheduling conflict with the holiday election ban.
The General Assembly removed the word “runoff” from the Holiday Planning Act in 2017, which plaintiffs say was an indication that lawmakers wanted elections to be allowed on that Saturday.
The optional early voting days now include four days this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Early voting will then be available nationwide for five days next week through Friday, December 2nd. State law requires early voting to end on the Friday before Election Day, December 6.