ATLANTA — Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff election is about three weeks away and it's almost time for early voting.
Former City of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is getting a lot of attention for her criticism of the early voting timeline.
She posted a tweet over the weekend saying voting can't start the Saturday before because it's the day after a state holiday. Her claim cites the state holiday once observed Confederate General Robert E. Lee's birthday.
Does the state holiday prohibit early voting from starting Saturday, Nov. 26?
Yes, the state holiday does prohibit early voting from starting on Saturday, Nov. 26. If the state holiday wasn't there - Thanksgiving would also prohibit advance voting from starting that weekend as well.
WHAT WE FOUND
Georgia's newest election law, known as SB202, outlines the timeline for runoff elections. They must be held on the 28th day after a general or special primary election. This is why the second showdown between GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker and Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock will be held on Dec. 6.
Georgia code delineates early voting must start no later than the second Monday before the runoff. Under the Senate runoff timeline, this date is Nov. 28.
The question becomes when voters can head to the polls over a weekend.
OCGA 21-2-385(d) cites if the second Saturday after Election Day follows a holiday occurring on Thursday or Friday or proceeds holidays that are happening on Sunday or Monday, "such advance voting shall not be held on such second Saturday but shall be held on the third Saturday prior to such primary or election beginning at 9:00 A.M. and ending at 5:00 P.M." It will be up to county election officials to extend the voting hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the code states.
Gov. Kemp's office also released a list of 2022 state holidays to state department leaders and other state officials last December in a memo. The list shows January 19 is a state holiday that used to commemorate Robert E. Lee's birthday. However, it's now observed on Friday, Nov. 25. Records show in 2016, Georgia removed Robert E. Lee's Name, but did not do away with Nov. 25 as a state holiday.
Below is a memo from 2014, the last time Georgia listed Robert E. Lee's birthday as a state holiday.
This means that early voting in the runoff cannot start on Saturday, Nov. 26, as previously stated by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
When asked why the code was written in this way, or why the holiday exists, Chief Operating Officer Gabriel Sterling responded on Twitter.
"Because years ago it hit on a holiday weekend and the legislature, as a matter of fairness to those employees and at their urging at the time, let that be the holiday weekend it was intended to be and not treat them like (second) class employees," he posted on social media.
Historically, early voting does not take place the weekend before an election. However, under Georgia code which cites voting can happen the third Saturday before this means voters may be allowed to cast their ballots early on Dec. 3, but state election leaders have not been clear if this will be an option for the upcoming runoff.
Ultimately, this means the combination of Thanksgiving and the state holiday, formerly known as General Robert E. Lee's birthday, does indeed prohibit early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26. The holidays are why all Georgia counties will begin early in-person voting on Nov. 28.