Georgia ban on Saturday voting before Warnock vs Walker runoff would ‘irreparably harm’ voters, judge rules

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Georgia voters will be able to cast their ballots in a runoff election between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker on the only Saturday before election day in that race.

A judge in Fulton County ruled on 19 November that Georgia’s Secretary of State cannot block counties from opening voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is on 24 November.

The ruling is a victory for the state’s Democratic party and Mr Warnock’s campaign, as well as voters who were blocked from early voting on the Saturday before a runoff election under a sweeping elections law signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp last year.

“I work during the week, and on the weekend you have more time. There are other Georgians who may only have limited time off, and that may be Saturday,” Judge Thomas Cox had asked attorneys for the state. “What do you say to that?

With the judge’s decision, voters will be able to cast their ballots on the only Saturday that it would be possible to participate in early in-person voting in the closely watched US Senate race.

Under the law signed by Governor Kemp, early in-person voting ends on the Friday before a runoff election. This year, that would be 2 December. Election day in that contest is Tuesday, 6 December.

But the law also prohibits early in-person voting on the Saturday after any “public or legal holiday”, meaning that early in-person voting would be prohibited on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Senator Warnock’s campaign sued, and Judge Cox issued a ruling in the senator’s favour on Friday.

“The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate,” the judge wrote.

The secretary of state’s office intends to appeal.

Senator Warnock’s re-election bid against his Donald Trump-endorsed former football star Republican rival was too close to call at the conclusion of last week’s midterm elections, with neither candidate surpassing a majority of votes needed to clinch victory.

Democratic senators, however, will retain control of the upper chamber of Congress, after flipping a previously Republican-held Senate seat in Pennsylvania in last week’s elections. Democratic senators will hold at least 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber. Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote. If Mr Warnock is re-elected, Democrats will have 51 seats.

The race echoes the 2020 runoff election in Georgia, in which voters ultimately elected two Democratic senators to secure the party’s majority in Congress.