Georgia’s midterm election cycle continues with the highly anticipated U.S. Senate runoff between incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and controversial Republican nominee Herschel Walker. However, unlike years past, under the state’s new election integrity law, early voting for the runoff begins just as the general election closes, giving voters a window of time historically short to vote.
In previous elections, the second round had lasted nine weeks. Under the new law, SB202, which includes a series of new voting restrictions, the deadline has been significantly shortened and must take place 28 days after the general election. This delay is all the more important since voters must now register 30 days before an election, which makes it impossible to register new voters between the general elections, which took place on November 8, and the second round.
SB202 is causing confusion among voters and election officials, especially regarding the Saturday vote. Saturday voting has been made available in early voting in previous elections, prompting officials and voters to believe that Saturday November 26 would be an early voting day in the second round this year. Yet under the new law, voting cannot take place near a holiday, which – due to both Thanksgiving and a holiday formerly known as Robert E Lee Day — would have instead pushed back the official start of early voting to Monday, November 28.
Following a lawsuit by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Warnock for Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Saturday voting is now permitted on Nov. 26. It was argued that this specific voting day was critical for many voters because it would feature the only possible vote on Saturday under the state’s tighter schedule. (The state unsuccessfully tried to block the decision, but so far it has been upheld.)
Vasu Abhiraman, deputy director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Georgia, also notes the importance of this voting day for students. “We spoke to so many students, who weren’t able to vote in the [general] because they did not receive their absentee ballot in time or their ballot was not received in time,” Abhiraman said. “They don’t want to take that chance, and they want to vote when they’re home right now for their Thanksgiving break, and this Saturday is the main date we’re hearing when people will be available and able to vote.”
But the problems with early voting in the second round this year extend beyond a Saturday. In the last state election runoff, there were three weeks of early voting. The state now only requires five days of early voting. Also, in the past, these early voting days did not coincide so closely with the certification of the general election. Now, the same amount of time allotted for early voting accounts for almost the entire run-off voting period. More than 2.5 million Georgians voted early in the state’s last runoff.
During the general election, it was revealed that election officials worked with newly hired staff while trying to adapt to a more rigorous election process, straining the capacity of election administration across the state. Now they face similar challenges as they once again try to do the same amount of work in an even shorter amount of time.
“We have seen election officials having to certify their votes, perform a risk mitigation audit and respond to voter concerns while trying to determine when and where they can possibly hold early voting, which is available to staff, when they can take out their absentee ballots and how they are going to deal with everything,” Abhiraman said.
The second round of senatorial elections in Georgia is critical to the national political landscape. That will determine the Democratic majority margin in the US Senate in the new year, a crucial anchor as they just lost control of the House of Representatives. Still, Georgia voters and suffrage advocates are concerned about the state’s ability to guarantee access to voting the second time around.
“Counties are doing their best to do what they can to accommodate voters and navigate SB202,” Abhiraman says. “But, in the last second round of the Senate, 4.5 million people voted. How can you accommodate 4.5 million voters in less than a month?