An appeals court ruled in Sen. Raphael Warnock's favor Monday, allowing counties to permit early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court in Georgia ruled against the state on Monday, allowing counties to offer residents early voting on Saturday in its Senate runoff election.
The ruling upholds a Friday decision from a Fulton County judge in a case filed Nov. 14 by the Democratic Party of Georgia and others against guidance issued by the state that had barred counties from holding advanced voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker are headed to a Dec. 6 runoff election after neither received 50% of the vote during the Nov. 8 midterm election.
On Nov. 12, Georgia State Secretary Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, issued election guidance stating advanced voting "must begin as soon as possible," including prior to the Thanksgiving holiday if necessary preparations can be completed by then.
Raffensperger in the guidance also said that advanced voting was prohibited for Saturday due to state law, which stipulates that if the second Saturday before an election follows a Thursday or Friday holiday voting will be prohibited.
However, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox ruled Friday that Raffensperger's guidance is essentially based on a misunderstanding of the law in question.
Cox said that he can see how the law's restrictions on voting could preclude Saturday as it is clearly the second Saturday preceding the runoff election and it immediately follows a legal holiday.
"The only factor remaining to determine is if this restriction applies to runoff elections, and this court finds that it does not," Cox wrote.
Cox said that when the state legislature made the law, primary, election and runoff were treated as district terms and lawmakers chose to only use primary or election in its legislation, excluding runoff altogether.
"Had the legislature been so inclined, they could have easily included runoff to continue this pattern of a three-category list, but they chose not to," he wrote.
He also said that by not permitting voting on Saturday, Warnock and other plaintiffs will be irreparably harmed.
Mike Hassinger, spokesman for Raffensperger, said following the decision that the state's General Assembly should clarify this issue in order to prevent further confusion.
"The court has worked its will," he said in a statement. "I hope that Georgia's election workers will be able to enjoy a somewhat restful holiday despite this decision."
The Democratic Party of Georgia, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Warnock described Monday's ruling in a joint statement as "a victory for every Georgia voter."
"We look forward to counties across the state providing voters the opportunity to cast their ballots on Saturday, Nov. 26," the plaintiffs said.