Georgia’s midterm election cycle continues with a highly anticipated runoff for the U.S. Senate election between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and controversial Republican candidate Herschel Walker. However, unlike in years past, under the state’s new election integrity law, early runoff voting begins just as the general election closes, giving voters a historically tight window of time to cast their ballots.
In previous elections, the second round lasted nine weeks. Under the new law, SB202, which imposes a number of new restrictions on voting, the deadlines have been significantly shortened to 28 days after the general election. This deadline is particularly important because voters must now register 30 days before the election, making it impossible for new voters to register between the November 8 general election and the runoff.
SB202 is causing confusion among voters and election officials, especially as it relates to Saturday voting. Saturday voting was available during early voting in the last election, leading officials and voters to believe that Saturday, Nov. 26, would be the day for early voting in this year’s runoffs. However, under the new law, voting cannot take place around a holiday, which – due to both Thanksgiving and the public holiday formerly known as Robert E. Lee Day – would instead move the official start of early voting to Monday 28 November.
After a lawsuit initiated by the Georgia Democratic Party, Warnock for Georgia and the Democratic Senate Caucus, Saturday voting is now allowed on November 26. That particular voting day was said to be critical for many voters, as it would be the only possible Saturday vote in the state’s tighter schedule. (The state tried unsuccessfully to block the ordinance, but it has so far been upheld.)
Vasu Abhiraman, associate director of policy and advocacy for the ACLU of Georgia, also notes the importance of this voting day for college students. “We talked to a lot of students who couldn’t vote [general] in the election because they either did not receive their absentee ballots on time or their ballot paper was not received on time,” Abhiraman said. “They don’t want to take that chance, and they want to vote while they’re home now on Thanksgiving break, and this Saturday is the main date we’re hearing when people will be available and able to vote.”
But problems with early voting in this year’s runoff stretch over one Saturday. In the last runoff election in the state, early voting lasted for three weeks. The state now only needs five days of early voting. Also, in the past, early voting days didn’t exactly coincide with general election certification. Now, this same time allocated for early voting almost corresponds to the entire period of the second round of voting. More than 2.5 million Georgians voted early in the last second round of elections in the state.
This was revealed during the general election election officials worked with new personnel trying to adjust to a more rigorous electoral process, straining the capacity of election administration across the state. Now they face similar problems when they try again to complete the same amount of work in an even shorter period of time.
“We’ve seen election officials have to certify their votes, conduct audits to limit risk and respond to voter concerns, all while trying to figure out when and where they can hold early voting, who can staff it, when they will be able to get their stamp marks and how they are going to process it all,” Abhiraman said.
The second round of Georgia’s Senate elections is crucial for national politics. That will determine the Democrats’ majority in the US Senate in the new year, a crucial point since they just lost control of the House of Representatives. Still, Georgia voters and voting rights advocates are concerned about the state’s ability to provide access to second-time voting.
“Counties are doing everything they can to satisfy voters and target SB202,” Abhiraman says. “But in the last second round of the Senate, 4.5 million people voted. How can you host 4.5 million voters in less than a month?”