ATLANTA — Several county elections boards across metro Atlanta will meet Tuesday to determine when voters will be able to vote early in-person for the looming runoff election between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Voting rights advocates are asking those county elections boards and lawmakers to expand opportunities for voters to cast their ballots, especially during the runoff period.
Advocates fear Georgia's new election law could mean lower voter turnout. The law, also known as SB202, shortens the time between Election Day and a runoff election from nine weeks to four weeks. In Georgia's last runoff elections, in January 2021, 4.5 million Georgians voted. But they had several weeks to vote early then, said Vasu Abhiraman with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia.
"What is really unfortunate about this runoff cycle is that instead of three weeks of early voting, we're down to one required week of early voting," Abhiraman said. "Counties are also in a difficult situation. There's no doubt that turning around another election while you're trying to certify and finish the vote count for the first election is a tall order."
Abhiraman said counties could try to maximize the number of locations, equipment and staff at their polling locations. Voters have the chance to participate in the runoff by voting absentee by mail, early in-person or head to the polls to vote in person on December 6.
However, the Georgia Secretary of State's Office said early voting must start by Monday, November 28 and cited a law stating voting is not allowed on Saturdays after state holidays. That would leave Sunday, November 27, as the only weekend day for early voting before the runoff.
"I think it's a tactic to limit access to the ballot. Shortening the period will not stop us from mobilizing the vote," Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP, said. "What it will do is dishearten individuals in trusting a process. We’re calling on our elected officials to do what’s necessary to make sure more people have access to the ballot. If they don’t, the Georgia State Conference and their lawyers will.”
Griggs is calling on local elections boards to expand early in-person voting as much as possible. He's also asking lawmakers to do away with what he calls "laws that are forms of voter suppression."
The Secretary of State's Office pointed out that counties can set their own times for early voting, within the law, and the holiday voting restrictions could actually take pressure off already busy election workers.
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Abhiraman supported including days earlier in the week before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday to make up for a shortened period to vote early in the runoff. He said all Georgia voters will be impacted by the new elections law, especially college students, who might be out of town or have finals to worry about during the week of early voting and the runoff election day.
"A nine-week cycle would’ve given everybody time over Thanksgiving to breathe," Abhiraman said. "The legislature did this when they didn’t have to, and at this point, the right to vote is sacred. We have to do whatever we can to ensure voters in Georgia have the access they need to cast their ballot. We want to keep an inspirational message going for the people of Georgia."