ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock’s first runoff in 2021 was a titanic nine-week battle for control of the Senate that included three weeks of early in-person voting and scores of mail-in ballots.
Warnock’s victory over Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler — and Democrat Jon Ossoff’s victory over Republican David Perdue — ended with two Democratic victories that gave the party 50-50 control of the Senatethanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cut ties.
But the second round of elections on December 6 this time will not be under the control of the Senate while Democrats retained seats in Arizona and Nevada earlier this month. The successful re-election bids of Sens. Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto were the Democrats needed to maintain their slim leads in the House.
Georgia requires a runoff if a candidate does not win a majority in a party primary or general election. Neither Warnock nor Republican Herschel Walker got 50%.
Under Georgia’s 2021 election law, the runoff will be just four weeks away — in the middle of Thanksgiving. Starting November 28, many Georgians will be offered only five working days of early in-person voting. And the June primary flows showed the time to receive and return ballots can be very tight.
Those changes could hurt Democrats, who push early and mail-in voting more than Republicans. Because the 2021 law makes it more difficult to apply to vote by mail, Democrats urged their supporters to vote in person in October.
U.S. Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson said it will be difficult to recapture the enthusiasm for early voting that Democrats showed in the run-up to the general election, when overall early voting set a new record for the midterms.
“We have Thanksgiving weekend until Tuesday, Dec. 6 to collect those votes, and there will be a lot of hard work over the holidays and leading up to the holiday season to make sure we get the vote out,” Johnson said. said. “I think voters realize that our future is still at stake and we can make a difference in Georgia for the nation. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.”
Stephen Lawson, who worked for Loeffler before her defeat by Warnock in 2021, recalled that even with the two-month period between the 2020 general election and the run-off, “you had voters who didn’t know the date of the run-off and had to be reminded, that it is not over yet.’ Lawson now chairs the 34N22 political action committee, which supports Walker.
The changes could lead to lower voter turnout and possibly a return to the old runoff rules in Georgia until 2021, when Republicans had a clear advantage.
“Republicans are better at getting their voters back to the runoff,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a lobbyist who was chief of staff to Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and later co-chairman of the national finance for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
No one who was not on the rolls before November 8 can register to vote now. The last day of registration was November 7.
Georgia’s 159 counties may open early voting earlier than Nov. 28, if they can. But they can’t begin until the state approves the general election, which is currently set for Nov. 21, said Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling.
But only 10 districts offered more than the allotted five days during June’s primaries, the first statewide elections to be held with a shortened runoff period. Moreover, state law prohibits early in-person voting on a public holiday or on the Saturday following a public holiday. Because both Thanksgiving and the following Friday are public holidays, there will be no voting on the Saturday before the runoff.
Some urban districts are likely to offer early in-person voting on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the most ambitious districts may also offer voting on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving if the race is certified on Nov. 21.
Mail-in ballots can be requested until November 28. About 150,000 people who voted by mail in the November election will be automatically sent ballots for the runoff. But reports from the Associated Press found that some counties were slow to mail ballots ahead of the runoff, raising questions about whether voters would be able to receive and return them in time.
Republicans say a four-week runoff is feasible, noting that it was the law in Georgia until 2013. A federal judge then found that military and overseas voters did not have enough time to return mail-in ballots, ordering nine weeks instead. In 2021, lawmakers solved the problem by adding ranked ballots for overseas voters, allowing them to select additional candidates in the event of a runoff.
“The districts are already prepared. They know we’re going to have that period of time,” GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told reporters on Wednesday.
Opponents of Georgia’s voting law say changes to mail-in voting are hurting voters, disputing Republican claims that high turnout proves the law didn’t hurt anyone.
“We know that members of our community have not had fair and equal access to voting by mail,” said Aisha Mahmoud, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Foundation, during an online news conference Wednesday.
Liberal groups promise they won’t be overwhelmed. Most do not endorse candidates, but pursue progressive policies generally in line with Democrats and are a key cog in the Democratic turnout machine.
“What we won in 2021, now you’re seeing it happen again,” said Hilary Holley of Care in Action, which advocates for domestic workers. “So, is this drain shorter? Undoubtedly. And should everyone start planning to vote right away? Of course.”
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