Georgia’s Senate Runoff Is Complicated by 2021 Voting Law

ATLANTA — A state holiday that once honored the Confederate general Robert E. Lee could take away a day of early voting in some Georgia counties in the Senate runoff between Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker.

The holiday’s timing became an issue after Republicans passed a state voting law last year that cut in half the runoff election calendar in Georgia. The law also gave voters less time to request absentee ballots, enacted stricter identification requirements and substantially reduced the number of available ballot drop boxes.

Civil rights advocates and Democrats intensely criticized the law when it passed and now argue that its impact on the runoff’s voting rules and procedures will marginalize Georgians in many counties.

The runoff, set in motion when neither candidate received at least 50 percent of the vote in last Tuesday’s election, will be held on Dec. 6. The mandatory early-voting period runs for five days from Nov. 28 through Dec. 2. But it is now limited to weekdays, with the lone possible Saturday excluded by a 2016 law.

Georgia is barred from holding early voting on the second Saturday before a runoff if the preceding Thursday or Friday are state holidays. The Saturday in question, Nov. 26, is two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday that once commemorated Robert E. Lee’s birthday. In 2015, Georgia dropped the Confederate tribute, but kept the state holiday.

Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who serves as Georgia’s top election official as secretary of state, previously suggested that voting on that Saturday on Nov. 26 could be a possibility, but lawyers in his office later concluded that it conflicted with the state holiday.

Counties have the option to offer three additional days of early voting for the runoff, but state law bars them from holding it on the Saturday before an election. Metro Atlanta’s largest counties will vote on Tuesday on whether to add those days.

Democratic groups have already begun asking counties to expand ballot access as much as they can within the confines of the new law. On Monday, Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer, sent letters to several Georgia counties on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, encouraging election officials across the state to begin the early voting period as early as Nov. 22.

Gerald A. Griggs, the president of the Georgia N.A.A.C.P., criticized the disruption to early voting by the Civil War-era homage.

“A Confederate holiday should not prevent the protection of democracy, which is called voting,” Mr. Griggs said on Twitter on Sunday. “That holiday needs to be eliminated.”

Last year’s voting law also added another scheduling challenge to an already-contentious runoff election: The state’s runoff period was shortened to four weeks, from nine. That means both campaigns will need to mobilize voters and plan events in half the time they once had. And the runoff campaign also coincides with Thanksgiving and the early days of the holiday season.

Hillary Holley, executive director of Care in Action, the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, criticized the early-voting dates by describing them as a “wink wink” to Georgia’s racially prejudiced past.

She added that having one less Saturday to vote would make it more difficult to turn out key portions of Democrats’ voting base, including people of color, young voters and low-income Georgians. Her organization is pushing county election offices to extend voting hours each day from the current eight hours to 12 hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The eight-hour voting day leaves counties “with a huge influx of voters on Election Day, and that’s just not sustainable,” Ms. Holley said. “Counties don’t need that. And our voters don’t need that.”


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