Georgia voters headed to the polls Saturday for Senate runoff

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CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — Georgia voters went to the polls Saturday to cast their ballots in the Senate runoff, taking advantage of an extra day of voting brought on by a lawsuit filed by Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), who is defending his seat against Republican Herschel Walker.

In more than two dozen counties across the state, thousands of voters from both parties turned out to vote, some waiting for hours in lines stretching around the block for a chance to cast their ballots before the second round on December 6.

The secretary of state reported that at least 70,000 people voted on Saturday. The first Saturday of early voting for the general election drew 79,682 people, more than double the turnout of 2018. Early voting will continue until Friday.

Those who took advantage of Saturday’s vote included college students visiting home for Thanksgiving, police officers and ambulance workers with busy work schedules, lifelong voters who pledge to always vote the first day they were allowed and retirees just looking for a getaway. of holiday guests.

“We have a house full of company. That gave me a good excuse to get out a little bit,” said Bill Chapel, a Walker supporter from Bartow County who said he usually votes early.

Chapel said he hopes Saturday’s vote ends up helping Walker more than Warnock, who filed the lawsuit that caused polls to open here a day earlier than state election officials had planned. Democrats have been more organized around Saturday’s early voting and promoted the option last week more than the Republicans.

A total of 27 counties went to the polls on Saturday, giving more opportunities to cast a ballot for voters who may be busy during the week. The participating counties, which include most of the state’s major metropolitan areas and several rural counties, ensured that just over half of the state’s population had the opportunity to vote on Saturday.

Although Warnock received about 35,000 more votes than Walker in the Nov. 8 general election, he fell short of the 50 percent threshold for an outright victory, triggering a runoff and prolonging one of the most expensive Senate races in the middle of the legislature. A poll released last week by AARP had Warnock ahead of Walker, 51 percent to 47 percent, within a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Warnock, a senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, won the Senate seat in a special runoff election in January 2021 and is seeking a full six-year term. If he wins on December 6, Democrats will have 51 seats in the Senate.

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Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1982 as a running back at the University of Georgia, was encouraged to run for the seat by former President Donald Trump. His candidacy has generated headlines about his past, including allegations of domestic violence and that he pressured and paid for two ex-girlfriends to have abortions. Walker is campaigning as a staunch opponent of abortion, saying he would support a national ban on the procedure.

Georgia’s secretary of state initially said counties could hold Saturday’s vote in runoff elections, but reversed course after ruling that a part of Georgia’s election code that prohibits voting two days later of a holiday banned Saturday voting under the new compressed schedule for runoff elections. ordered by the new law.

Democrats, led by Warnock’s campaign, sued the state, arguing that the policies in question did not apply to subsequent elections. A Fulton County judge sided with Warnock, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in the case. The state’s Republican attorney general, as well as the state and national Republican parties, lost their appeals in state courts.

In a fundraising email, Walker’s campaign told supporters that the decision to allow Saturday’s vote “is like coming out after halftime and knowing the refs have changed the rules for the rest of the game.”

The decision to hold the vote on Saturday then rested with the counties. In Bartow County, located northwest of Atlanta, the election board decided to do it at a single polling place in Cartersville. Walker won the county by 50 points earlier this month.

Peggy Brown, a Democrat on the Bartow Board of Elections, pointed out the irony that the five-seat board’s two Democrats and one independent pushed Saturday’s vote in the deep-red county while the board’s two Republicans vote against

“They didn’t think it was worth the money to do it and there wouldn’t be a very good turnout, but I think we’re going to prove them wrong,” said Brown, a steady line of voters, both Republican and Democrat. — circled by the polling station of the municipal building.

The extra day of voting cost $1,100, Brown said, and the board wasn’t sure at first if they would have enough workers, given holiday travel and people hosting out-of-town guests.

The state’s 2021 election law requires all Georgia counties to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays before a runoff election. Several counties, including many of the state’s most populous, had planned to hold Sunday voting the weekend before early voting began and passed trigger policies to fund Saturday voting if it was deemed legal.

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The public debate and litigation over Saturday’s vote is the latest showdown over the state’s election laws, which were overhauled by a controversial 2021 ballot law that had a significant effect on absentee ballot policies. , second-round elections, early voting and electoral administrative policy. The 2022 midterms are the first test of the Election Integrity Act, also known as SB 202. How the law interacts with other parts of Georgia’s election code has created confusion as the law has practice

Some voters said they didn’t want to take a chance by waiting until Election Day to vote.

“If there’s trouble or anything like that that day, then you’re kind of, you know, screwed,” said Douglas Edwards, a Cartersville dentist who supports Warnock. “If there’s anything today, we could always come back on Tuesday.”

Several students mentioned their concern about their absentee ballots and the ease of voting on Saturday, which coincided with them being home for Thanksgiving.

“I’m currently interning out of state and I didn’t receive my absentee ballot in time to vote at midterms, which really upset me,” said master’s student Katie Poe. “I’m in town for the holidays, and voting this Saturday is my only chance to vote in person, and maybe vote reliably.”

“I’ve had a lot of problems in the past with absentee voting. It’s a bit disheartening to be able to vote only when I’m here, because it’s very important to me,” he added.

“I’m a college student at school in Boston, and this is pretty much my only chance to vote in person. So I had to go out and vote, it’s a long line, but we’re waiting as best we can,” he said Catherine McBride, a senior at Cobb County College who was visiting home for Thanksgiving.

McBride said he voted absentee earlier this month in the general election, but had to wait two to three weeks for his ballot and was worried it wouldn’t make it in time for the general. So he decided to vote in person Saturday at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration polling place in Marietta.

Kavita Kar, a freshman at Stanford University in Marietta who was voting at the same location, cited similar fears about absentee voting.

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“I’m going back to college tomorrow,” Kar said of his decision to vote Saturday. “For the last election, a lot of my friends didn’t get their Cobb County ballots in on time.”

Several hundred voters waited in line to vote at the Cobb location Saturday afternoon, waiting about two hours to cast their ballots. Warnock beat Cobb County by 16 points.

Although a Democratic-led effort, both Republicans and Democrats praised Saturday’s vote for making it easier to vote around the jobs and travel plans.

“It’s hard to come down during the week when you’re moving earth,” said Kevin Tomlin, a Republican and heavy equipment operator from Bartow County.

“With my value program, we always vote early,” said Bill Stahl, a Taylorsville police officer who supports Walker. “It gives everybody a chance to go out. It’s not going to help any particular party.”

“I work for an ambulance company and I work 12-hour days, and this election was very important,” Warnock supporter Delores Flanagan said. “So I knew I wanted to vote at the first opportunity.”

“Normally I vote in absentia. But the last time I tried to do it, it took forever to get the ballot and I was worried that I might not be able to vote,” Flanagan said of her willingness to wait during the two-hour run. line to vote in Cobb County.

Walker supporter Sandi Griffin of Aragon noted that it was “a little strange” that each county would decide whether to hold early voting. And so it was kind of hard to keep track of when ours would open,” he said.

Griffin said she and her husband had made travel plans before the runoff was called, so they welcomed the chance to vote Saturday. “We’re leaving town, we were supposed to vote early today and I’m glad they finally opened it.”

Still, Griffin, a Republican, said she worries the extra day will help Democrats.

“I’m afraid he will. It’s scary, and on Sunday too, because then they can take people from the church,” he said.

Voters who spoke to The Washington Post said they are used to long lines and must return to the polls for a second round, with Saturday’s vote just one more chance to participate in the seemingly endless election season.

“We’re going to do it again and again and again,” said Robert Schofer, a Warnock supporter from Kennesaw. “And one more time.”

Matt Brown contributed to this report.

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