Georgian voters headed to the polls on Saturday for the Senate runoff

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CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — Georgia voters headed to the polls Saturday to vote in the Senate runoff, taking advantage of an extra day of voting prompted by a lawsuit filed by Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), who is defending his seat against Republican Herschel Walker.

In more than two dozen counties across the state, thousands of voters from both parties turned out to vote, some waiting for hours in lines around the block for the chance to vote early for the runner-up. turn of December 6.

The secretary of state’s office said at least 70,000 people cast ballots on Saturday. The first Saturday of early voting for the general election drew 79,682 people, more than double the number in 2018. Early voting will continue until Friday.

Those taking advantage of the Saturday vote included college students driving home for Thanksgiving, police officers and paramedics on busy schedules, lifelong voters who make it a point to always vote on the first day they are allowed and retirees simply seeking an escape from vacationers.

“We have a house full of company. It gave me a good excuse to get out a bit,” said Bill Chapel, a Walker supporter from Bartow County, who said he usually votes early.

Chapel said he hoped Saturday’s vote would end up helping Walker more than Warnock, who filed a lawsuit that resulted in polls opening here a day earlier than expected by election officials of State. Democrats organized more around Saturday’s early vote and promoted the option last week more than Republicans.

A total of 27 counties held Saturday voting, providing greater voting opportunities for voters who may be busy during the week. Participating counties, which include most of the state’s major metropolitan areas and several rural counties, ensured that just over half of the state’s population had the opportunity to vote on Saturday.

Although Warnock received around 35,000 more votes than Walker in the November 8 general election, he fell short of the 50% threshold for an outright victory, triggering a runoff and extending one of the races. in the Senate the most expensive at midterm. A poll released last week by AARP had Warnock ahead of Walker, 51% to 47%, within the margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Warnock, who won the seat in a special runoff election in January 2021, is seeking a full six-year term. If he wins on Dec. 6, the Democrats will hold 51 Senate seats.

Initially, Georgia’s secretary of state said counties would be allowed to vote on Saturdays in runoff elections, but reversed course after deciding that a part of Georgia’s election code prohibiting voting two days after one day public holiday banned Saturday voting under the new compressed schedule for a second round. imposed by the new law.

Democrats, led by Warnock’s campaign, sued the state, arguing that the policies in question did not apply in the runoff election. A Fulton County judge sided with Warnock, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in the case. The state’s Republican attorney general, as well as state and national Republican parties, lost their appeals in state courts.

In a fundraising email, Walker’s campaign told supporters that the decision to allow Saturday voting “is like going out after half-time and finding out the referees have changed the rules for the rest of the game”.

Then the decision whether or not to hold the Saturday vote was up to the counties. In Bartow County, located northwest of Atlanta, the Board of Elections decided to do so at a single polling place in Cartersville. Walker won County by 50 points earlier this month.

Peggy Brown, a Democratic member of the Bartow Board of Elections, noted the irony that the two Democrats and a five-seat independent on the council pushed for the vote Saturday in the dark red county while the two Republicans on the council voted against.

“They didn’t think it was worth doing and there wasn’t going to be a very good turnout, but I think we’re going to prove them wrong,” Brown said, as a regular on line. voters – Republicans and Democrats. — surrounded the municipal building polling place.

The extra day of voting cost $1,100, Brown said, and the board wasn’t sure at first if it would have enough workers, given the holiday trips and people hosting guests from the company. out of town.

All counties in Georgia are required by state election law of 2021 to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays before a runoff. Several counties, including many of the most populous in the state, had planned to hold Sunday voting the weekend before the start of the required early voting and adopted trigger policies to fund Saturday voting if it turned out to be legal.

Public debate and litigation over Saturday’s vote is the latest clash over the state’s election laws, which have been revised by a controversial 2021 election law that had a significant effect on policies around ballots by correspondence, second-round elections, early voting and electoral administrative policy. The 2022 midterms are the first test of the Election Integrity Act, also known as SB 202. How the law interacts with other parts of Georgia’s election code caused confusion during the practice of the law.

Some voters said they didn’t want to take any chances by waiting until Election Day to vote.

“If there’s any glitches or something that day, then you’re kind of, you know, screwed,” said Douglas Edwards, a Cartersville dentist supporting Warnock. “Today, if there is something, we could always come back on Tuesday.”

A number of students have raised concerns about their absentee ballots and the ease of voting on Saturday aligning with their return home for Thanksgiving.

“I’m currently interning out of state, and I didn’t receive my absentee ballot in time to vote for midterms, which made me quite upset,” said student Katie Poe. to mastery. “I’m in town for the holidays, and voting this Saturday is my only chance to vote in person, and possibly vote reliably.”

“I’ve had a lot of problems in the past with absentee voting. It’s a little disheartening to only be able to vote when I’m here because it’s so important to me,” she added.

“I’m a student at school in Boston, and this is about my only opportunity to vote in person. So I had to go out and vote, it’s a long line, but we’re waiting as best we can,” said Catherine McBride, a senior student from Cobb County visiting the house for Thanksgiving.

McBride said she voted absentee earlier in the month in the general election but had to wait two or three weeks for her ballot and feared it would not reach her in time for the general. So she decided to vote in person Saturday at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration polling station in Marietta.

Kavita Kar, a freshman at Stanford University from Marietta voting at the same location, raised similar fears about mail-in voting.

“I’m going back to college tomorrow,” Kar said of her decision to vote on Saturday. “For the last election, a lot of my friends didn’t get their Cobb County ballots on time.”

Several hundred voters lined up to cast their ballots at the Cobb site on Saturday afternoon, waiting around two hours to cast their ballots. Warnock won Cobb County by 16 runs.

Although it was a Democratic-led effort, Republicans and Democrats praised Saturday’s vote for making it easier to vote on work and travel plans.

“It’s tough to get down during the week when you’re moving dirt,” said Kevin Tomlin, a Republican and Bartow County heavy equipment operator.

“With my schedule, we always vote early,” said Bill Stahl, a Taylorsville police officer supporting Walker. “It gives everyone a fighting chance. It won’t help any particular game.

“I work for an ambulance company and work 12-hour days, and this election was really important,” said Delores Flanagan, a Warnock supporter. “So I knew I wanted to vote at the earliest opportunity.”

“I normally vote by mail. But the last time I tried to, it took forever to get the ballot, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to vote,” Flanagan said of his willingness to wait within two hours. . line to vote in Cobb County.

Sandi Griffin, a Walker supporter from Aragon, noted that it was “a little strange” that each county would decide whether to hold an early vote. And so it was a bit difficult to know when ours was going to open,” she said.

Griffin said she and her husband planned to travel before the second round, so they welcomed the chance to vote on Saturday. “We’re leaving town, we were supposed to vote on early voting today and I’m glad they finally opened it up.”

Still, Griffin, a Republican, said she fears the extra day will help Democrats.

“I’m afraid that’s the case. It’s a fear, and on Sundays too, because then they can bus people from church,” she said.

Voters who spoke with The Washington Post said they were used to long lines and needed to return to the polls for a runoff – with Saturday’s vote just another chance to participate in the seemingly endless election season.

“We will do it again and again and again,” said Robert Schofer, a Warnock supporter from Kennesaw. “And even.”

Matt Brown contributed to this report.

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