A Fulton County judge ruled Friday that the Georgia Secretary of State cannot prohibit counties from voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a victory for the state Democratic Party and Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign.
The order comes after a brief legal battle between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office and the Democratic Party of Georgia over the Dec. 6 Senate runoff between Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Raffensperger, a Republican, had maintained that changes to Georgia voting laws meant that there could be no early voting on Nov. 26, the only Saturday when it would have been possible for Georgians to cast an early vote in the hotly contested race.
Democrats and Warnock’s campaign filed suit challenging Raffensperger's determination, and Judge Thomas A. Cox agreed with their arguments in a ruling late Friday afternoon. “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.
Mike Hassinger, a spokesperson for Raffensperger's office, said "We disagree with the court’s order and look forward to a prompt appeal.”
The attorney general’s office said it planned to appeal the ruling, spokesperson Kara Richardson said.
The dispute centers on a provision of Senate Bill 202, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in March 2021, which stipulates early in-person voting must end the Friday before the runoff. This year, that would be Friday, Dec. 2.
The law also stipulates early in-person voting not be held on any Saturday that follows a “public or legal holiday” on the preceding Thursday or Friday. Raffensperger contended that meant there would be no early in-person voting on Nov. 26, the Saturday following Thanksgiving. (It could not be held this weekend because the general election vote is not being certified until Nov. 21.)
Attorneys for the Democrats and Warnock argued the section of the law Raffensperger cited applies to primaries and general elections, but not to runoffs. Cox agreed.
Voting rights groups have pushed counties in Georgia to open up early in-person voting on Nov. 22, 23 and 27. As of Friday, at least nine of the state’s 159 counties had opened up Nov. 27 for early voting, and a smaller handful opened it up for Nov. 22 and 23.