U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Democratic allies have filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court challenging the absence of Saturday early voting ahead of next month’s Georgia runoff against Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

Warnock held a slight lead over Walker after votes from the Nov. 8 general election were counted. But neither candidate gained more than 50% of the vote, sending the two into a Dec. 6 runoff.

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s election, the secretary of state’s office indicated one weekday day for early voting likely would be set for Saturday, Nov. 26.

But Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger subsequently announced there would be no early voting that day, citing a state law that prohibits early voting on any day that immediately follows a state holiday.

Thursday, Nov. 24, is Thanksgiving Day, and Friday, Nov. 25, is a state holiday originally set aside for the observance of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday. While Lee’s name has been removed, the state holiday remains in effect.  

In a motion to restore the early voting Saturday, Warnock’s campaign, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Party of Georgia argue the law cited by the secretary of state applies only to primary and general elections, not to runoffs.

The plaintiffs charge the real motivation on the part of Republicans is to suppress the vote.

“Illegal attempts to block Saturday voting are another desperate attempt by career politicians to squeeze the people out of their own democracy and to silence the voices of Georgians,” Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager, said Tuesday. “We’re aggressively fighting to protect Georgia voters’ ability to vote on Saturday.” 

“The secretary of state’s guidance regarding Saturday runoff voting is deeply concerning for anyone who believes in the right to vote, and it clearly contradicts Georgia law,” added Rebecca DeHart, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “We will use every legal tool at our disposal to ensure that Georgia counties can offer voters ample opportunity to cast their ballot as laid out in state law.”

Raffensperger criticized the lawsuit as poorly timed, with an indirect reference to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

“If recent elections prove one thing, it’s that voters expect candidates to focus on winning at the ballot box – not at the courthouse,” Raffensperger said.

“Senator Warnock and his Democratic Party allies are seeking to change Georgia law right before an election based on their political preferences. Instead of muddying the water and pressuring counties to ignore Georgia law, Senator Warnock should be allowing county election officials to continue preparations for the upcoming runoff.”

The Dec. 6 runoff will be the second for Warnock. The Democrat won the Senate seat in a runoff in January of last year, defeating then-Republican incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams is Capitol Beat bureau chief.

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