Early voting is set to take place in more than a dozen Georgia counties both days on Thanksgiving weekend after the Georgia Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch attempt by Republican groups to block the polls from opening on Saturday for the runoff for the U.S. Senate.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court justices unanimously denied the petition from the Georgia Republican Party, the Republican National Senate Committee and the Republican National Committee that argued that it is illegal for counties to offer early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26 since it falls two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday.

When the secretary of state’s office declined to appeal to the state’s top court, Republican organizations filed the emergency petition. The  lawsuit was initially filed last week by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign, the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who argued that the secretary of state’s office was misapplying a law and that  having more voting opportunities is a benefit for busy people who work weekdays.

Following the Nov. 8 midterm election, when both Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker failed to avoid a runoff by surpassing 50% to claim victory, GeorgiaSecretary of State Brad Raffensperger initially said that he expected some counties would have advanced voting sites open on Saturday Nov. 26. Soon after, the state’s position changed when his office issued guidelines for the Senate runoff that said that the new election law’s holiday provision makes it illegal for counties to open the polls this Saturday.

Early voting for the Dec. 6 runoff election began in Douglas County on Tuesday, and in DeKalb County on Wednesday.

A number of Georgia counties are planning to open early voting precincts this Saturday, including Chatham, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Macon-Bibb, Muscogee and Walton counties. Others will open on Sunday while each of Georgia’s 159 counties will have polls open from Nov. 28-Dec. 2 ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff.

State election officials recommend voters check the website of their county election office to see when local early voting is available.

In the closely contested runoff, Walker may be at a disadvantage after three courts ruled in favor of Warnock’s suit since during the early voting period, counties with strong Democratic leanings in Georgia’s large metro areas are planning to offer weekend voting to a larger pool of voters than those with Republican majorities. 

Following the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers overhauled Georgia’s voting laws  in response to former President Donald Trump’s unexpected loss to Democrat Joe Biden. 

The same Republican party that fought to ban voting access on Saturday had repeatedly emphasized that their 2021 election law overhaul was intended to make voting in Georgia harder to cheat and easier to cast a ballot.

They argued in legal filings that Georgia’s law is designed to provide election workers with time off for an extended holiday weekend while also preventing voters in communities with fewer resources from being disadvantaged because of understaffed election offices.

Republican groups contended in their “friend of the court” brief that the Warnock campaign and the Democratic Party are unfairly using the Saturday voting controversy in a partisan manner since the counties with the largest voting bloc that would have the staffing and will to open on Saturday are typically Democratic-leaning.

“Meanwhile, voters in smaller, Republican counties are sidelined, forced to watch as others vote on a day the statute does not permit,” attorney Jake Evans, a defeated Trump-backed congressional candidate, wrote in the brief on behalf of the Republican organizations. “Finally, the court improperly inserted itself into voting procedures, changing the rules of this election days before voting begins.”

Georgia law specifies that in-person voting can begin as soon as possible after a primary and general election, but no later than the second Monday before the runoff date.

Early voting sites can be open on the third Saturday of the month if a state holiday precedes the prior weekend, however the runoff on Dec. 6 does not fit this timeline since the third Saturday falls within the timeframe for midterm certification.

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