Judge Denies Another GOP Attempt To Shut Down Saturday Voting

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A Georgia court has denied a request filed by the defendants’ side for a stay in a Democratic lawsuit seeking to allow counties to hold early in-person voting on Saturday, November 26, which follows a legally recognized holiday observance.

There are restrictions on conducting early voting after holidays, but the original litigation apparently contested whether these rules applied to runoff elections at all. A runoff election is currently unfolding in the state’s race for Senate, with Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Trump-supported Republican contender Herschel Walker facing each other for a second time because neither candidate passed 50 percent this month. (No other candidates are included.) The stay, which is a piece of judicial procedure putting some finding or order on hold, would have blocked a ruling from a lower court allowing the additional day of early voting that plaintiffs sought. A brief order from a Georgia state court of appeals dated on November 21 doesn’t include reasoning for the rejection, although the rejection of Republicans’ push was more comprehensively laid out in court in Georgia’s Fulton County.

“They conclude that O.C.G.A. §21-2-385(d)(1)’s absence of a reference to runoff elections is the prevailing interpretation,” the Fulton judge wrote about the plaintiffs’ interpretation of relevant pieces of Georgia law covering early voting. “The Court agrees in this instance.” The case is from plaintiffs including the Warnock campaign. “Based upon the pronouncement that Georgia counties will be barred from providing advance voting on Saturday, November 26, 2022,” the judge wrote in an analysis underpinning emergency action. “The Court finds that the absence of the Saturday vote will irreparably harm the Plaintiffs, their members, and constituents, and their preferred runoff candidate.”

At the Fulton County level, the judge also provided specific analysis regarding the legal issues. There are other portions of state law covering elections that continue to specify runoff elections as a distinct category covered by the regulations, but the contested early voting rules don’t include such a specification, and the judge assumed an intent: “Had the Legislature been so inclined, they could have easily included runoff to continue this pattern of a three-category list but they chose not to. In this instance it is obvious that they chose not to because it was previously included in the text of the statute but was later removed.”

After the rejection at the appeals level this week, the voting rights organization Democracy Docket indicated that Georgia authorities had no further plans to appeal, which means early voting on November 26 should be happening or at least allowed to happen. (It seems as though individual counties still maintain decision-making power on this particular point regarding what to offer.) Previously, state guidance expressly pushed back on offering early voting this Saturday. If counties decided to do so anyway, one could imagine the votes cast on that day might have been subject to challenges from state officials or some other entity, effectively shutting down the option. The defendants are hereby blocked from “preventing any votes cast on that day from being counted or included in the certified election results,” the county judge explained. (UPDATE: Other defendants subsequently appealed.)