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Georgia Supreme Court rejects GOP bid to stop Saturday voting in runoff  

In a unanimous ruling, the Peach State's highest court allowed counties to open polling locations for early voting this Saturday after Republicans tried to argue it violates state law.

ATLANTA (CN) — The Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously rejected a petition filed by Republicans seeking to block Saturday early voting for the state's closely watched U.S. Senate runoff election.

The justices did not provide any reasoning behind their decision in the single-page order.

The emergency petition was filed Tuesday by the Georgia Republican Party, National Republican Senatorial Committee and Republican National Committee, after a lower court ruled that counties can open polling locations on Saturday, Nov. 26.

This was the GOP's second attempt to prevent early voting this Saturday after being shot down by the Georgia Court of Appeals on Monday evening. Joined by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the party argued in the first appeal that state law prohibits Saturday voting if there is a state holiday on the Thursday or Friday before.  

They also argued that under state law, counties are required to provide voters with a notice of the times, dates and locations for early voting “no later than seven days” before voting starts. Raffensperger declined to join the party in the second appeal.

Wednesday's ruling by the state's highest court is a victory for Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who is trying to increase voter turnout for the runoff in his race for reelection against Republican Hershel Walker, after neither candidate received a majority of the votes in the Nov. 8 midterm election.

Warnock, his campaign, and the Georgia Democratic Party filed the original lawsuit last week to allow Saturday voting, arguing the restriction on Saturday voting does not apply to runoff elections. 

Several major metro Atlanta counties, including Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett, said they would open voting locations Saturday. Most of those counties leaned Democratic in the 2020 election.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that Democrats are "scheming to change election laws in the eleventh hour," but many Republican-leaning counties such as Mitchell, Walton and Ware are also offering Saturday early voting.

Since Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is a state holiday, Nov. 26 is the only possible Saturday for early voting, as state law also requires early voting to end on the Friday before Election Day, which is Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox sided with the Democratic plaintiffs last Friday and held that the law only applies to regularly scheduled elections.

The election law governing Saturday voting was passed in 2016, but the Georgia General Assembly removed the word “runoff” from it the following year. 

Georgia also went into a U.S. Senate runoff in the last election cycle two years ago, during which early voting was allowed on Saturday, Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, when more than 15,500 ballots were cast across three counties. 

At the time, runoffs were held nine weeks after the general election, but the Republican majority of the General Assembly passed a law last year that shortened the runoff period to four weeks. The move came after Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff won their Senate runoff elections and flipped party control of the chamber.

Walker, a famed University of Georgia football player with an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, has yet to comment on the ruling, but has recently gained the support of Republican Governor Brian Kemp. The newly reelected governor and many other Republicans were initially hesitant on backing Walker due to the numerous controversial allegations surrounding him, including that he paid for two women's abortions despite his public support for a total ban against the procedure.

Georgia is the only state holding a runoff this election cycle. Democrats have already secured their control of the U.S. Senate, but only by a fragile majority. 

Louisiana is the only other state that requires a runoff after a general election when no candidate wins a majority of votes. Most other states decide winners based on whichever candidate gets the most votes, even if that’s less than 50% of votes cast.

Some Georgia counties began opening polling locations Tuesday and will also offer early voting Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Statewide early voting begins Monday, Nov. 28 and runs through Friday, Dec. 2.

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