Georgia’s midterm election cycle continues with the highly anticipated US Senate runoff between incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and controversial Republican nominee Herschel Walker. Unlike in previous years, however, under the state’s new election integrity law, early voting for the runoff begins just as the general election draws to a close, giving voters a historically small window of time to cast their vote. vote.
In previous elections, runoffs lasted nine weeks. Under the new law, SB202, which includes a number of new voting restrictions, the deadline has been substantially shortened and must occur 28 days after the general election. This deadline is especially important because voters must now register 30 days before an election, making it impossible for new voters to register between the general election, which took place on November 8, and the runoff.
SB202 is causing confusion among voters and election officials, especially in regards to voting on Saturday. Saturday voting was available during early voting in past elections, leading officials and voters to believe that Saturday, November 26, would be a day for early voting in this year’s runoffs. However, under the new law, voting cannot occur close to a holiday, which, due to both Thanksgiving and the state holiday formerly known as Robert E Lee Day, would have delayed the official start of voting. early voting until Monday, November 28.
Following a lawsuit filed by the Georgia Democratic Party, Warnock for Georgia, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, voting on Saturday, November 26, is now allowed. This specific voting day was argued to be critical to many voters, as it would feature the only possible Saturday vote under the state’s stricter schedule. (The state unsuccessfully tried to block the ruling, but it has so far stood.)
Vasu Abhiraman, deputy director for policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Georgia, also highlights the importance of this voting day for college students. “We have spoken with so many students, who could not vote in the [general] election because they did not receive their absentee ballot on time or their ballot was not received on time,” Abhiraman said. “They don’t want to take this risk, and they want to vote when they’re home right now for their Thanksgiving break, and that Saturday is the main date that we hear people will be available and able to vote.”
But the problems with early voting in this year’s runoff extend beyond one Saturday. In the state’s last runoff election, there were three weeks of early voting. The state now requires just five days of early voting. Also, in the past, these early voting days did not coincide as much with the certification of the general election. Now, the same amount of time allotted for early voting accounts for almost the entire runoff voting period. More than 2.5 million Georgians voted early in the state’s final runoff.
During the general election, it was revealed that election officials were working with newly hired staff as they tried to accommodate a more rigorous election process, straining election administration capabilities across the state. Now, they face similar challenges trying to do the same amount of work in an even less amount of time once again.
“We have seen election officials having to certify their votes, conduct a de-risking audit, and have to respond to voter concerns all while trying to figure out when and where they can vote early, who is available to staff it staffing, when can they cast their absentee ballots and how are they going to process it all,” Abhiraman said.
The runoff election to the Georgia Senate is critical to the national political landscape. It will determine the margin of the majority of the Democrats in the US Senate in the new year, a crucial foothold since they have just lost control of the House of Representatives. Still, Georgia voters and voting rights advocates are concerned about the state’s ability to guarantee access to the vote a second time.
“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 is it possible to accommodate 4.5 million voters in less than a month?