At least 70,000 people voted Saturday, the Secretary of State’s office said. 79,682 people voted on the first Saturday of early voting for the general election, more than double the 2018 figure. Early voting will continue till Friday.
Among those who benefited from Saturday voting were college students who went home for Thanksgiving, police officers and ambulance workers, those with busy work schedules, lifelong voters, those who always vote on the first day of admission and retirees who want an escape. From holiday guests.
“We got a whole house of company. It gave me a good reason to get out for a while,” said Bill Chappell, a Walker supporter from Bartow County who said he usually votes early.
Chappell said he believes Saturday’s vote favors Walker over Warnock, resulting in the opening of polls here a day earlier than planned by state election officials. Democrats have been promoting the option for the past week, organizing heavily around early voting on Saturday More so than Republicans.
Polling was held in a total of 27 districts on Saturday, giving more opportunities to voters who were busy during the week. Participating districts, which include the state’s major metropolitan areas and many rural districts, ensured more than half of the state’s population a chance to vote on Saturday.
Although Warnock won about 35,000 votes over Walker in the Nov. 8 general election, he fell short of the 50 percent threshold for an outright victory, sparking a runoff and prolonging one of the costliest Senate races in the midterms. In a poll released last week by AARP, Warnock led Walker 51 percent to 47 percent, with a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Warnock, who won a special runoff election in January 2021, is seeking a full, six-year term. If he wins on Dec. 6, Democrats will hold 51 seats in the Senate.
Initially, the Georgia secretary of state said counties would be allowed to vote on Saturday, but Saturday voting was banned under the new shortened deadline after deciding that a section of Georgia’s election code prohibits voting two days after the holiday. Mandated by the new law.
Democrats, led by Warnock’s campaign, sued the state, arguing the policies in question did not apply to runoff elections. A judge in Fulton County sided with Warnock, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the case. The state’s Republican attorney general and state and national Republican parties lost their appeals in state courts.
In a fundraising email, Walker’s campaign told supporters the decision to allow Saturday’s vote was “like coming out after halftime and learning the referees changed the rest of the rules of the game.”
Later, it was up to the districts to decide whether to hold polls on Saturday. The Board of Elections decided to do so at a polling place in Cartersville, Bartow County, northwest of Atlanta. Walker won the county by 50 points earlier this month.
Peggy Brown, a Democratic member of the Bartow Board of Elections, said two Democrats on the five-seat board pushed for an independent vote Saturday, while two Republicans on the board voted against it.
“They don’t think it’s worth the money to do it and there won’t be a good turnout, but I think we’re going to prove them wrong,” Brown said of a steady line of voters — Republicans and Democrats — circled through the polls at the municipal building.
Brown said an extra day of voting would cost $1,100, and at first it was uncertain whether they would have enough workers, including holiday travel and people to entertain out-of-town guests.
All counties in Georgia are required by the state’s 2021 election law to vote early on the weekdays before the runoff election from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Several counties, including many of the state’s most populous counties, had planned to hold Sunday voting over the weekend, before early voting began, and passed stimulus policies to fund Saturday voting if it was found to be legal.
The public debate and lawsuits surrounding Saturday’s voting are the latest in a row over the state’s election laws, which were replaced by a controversial 2021 voting law that significantly affected policies related to absentee ballots, runoff elections, early voting and election administration policies. The 2022 midterm elections 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 led to confusion since the law took effect.
Some voters said they didn’t want to take any chances by waiting until Election Day to vote.
“If there’s any defects or anything like that that day, you’re kind of, you know, screwed,” said Douglas Edwards, a dentist from Cartersville who supports Warnock. “If there’s something today, we can always come back on Tuesday.”
Many students cited absentee ballots and concerns about being home on Thanksgiving by voting Saturday.
“I’m currently doing an internship out of state and I didn’t get my absentee ballot to vote in the midterms, which I’m really upset about,” said senior student Katie Poe. “I’m in town for the holidays and voting this Saturday is the only chance I have to vote in person, and vote reliably.”
“I faced a lot of problems in the past because I did not turn up to vote. It’s kind of depressing that I can 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 my only chance to vote in person. So I had to go out and vote, and it was a long line, but we waited as long as we could,” said Kathryn McBride, a senior in college from Cobb County.
McBride said she voted absentee in the general election earlier in the month, but had to wait two or three weeks for her ballot and was worried it wouldn’t arrive in time for the general election. So, he decided to vote in person Saturday at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration polling station in Marietta.
Kavita Kar, a first-year student at Stanford University and a student from Marietta who is voting at the same location, cited fears of not voting.
“I’m going back to college tomorrow,” Garr said of Saturday’s decision to vote. “For the last election, many of my friends from Cobb County didn’t get their ballots in on time.”
Several hundred voters lined up to vote at Cobb’s on Saturday afternoon, waiting for about two hours to cast their ballots. Warnock beat Cobb County by 16 points.
Although a Democratic-led initiative, both Republicans and Democrats praised Saturday’s vote for making it easier to vote around jobs and travel programs.
“It’s hard to get into the week when you’re moving dirt,” said Kevin Tomlin, a heavy equipment operator and Republican from Bartow County.
“With my schedule, we always vote early,” said Bill Stahl, a police officer from Taylorsville who supports Walker. “It gives everybody an opportunity to get out. It’s not going to help a particular party.
“I work for an ambulance company, I work 12-hour days, and this election is very important,” said Delores Flanagan, a Warnock supporter. “So I knew I wanted to vote at the first opportunity.”
“I usually vote no. But the last time I tried to do it, it took forever to actually get the ballot, and I was worried I might not be able to vote,” Flanagan said of her willingness to wait two hours. Line up to vote in Cobb County.
Sandy Griffin, a Walker supporter from Aragon, noted that it would be “strange” for each county to decide whether to vote early. So it was difficult to track 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 ability to vote Saturday. “We’re leaving town and we have to vote on early voting today, and I’m glad they finally opened it up.”
Still, Griffin, a Republican, said he worries the extra day will help Democrats.
“I’m afraid that will happen. It’s a fear, and also on Sunday, because they can bus the church people,” he said.
Voters who spoke to The Washington Post said they were used to long lines and wanted to vote again for the election — another opportunity to vote Saturday to take part in the endless election season.
“We’ll do it again and again,” said Robert Schoffer, a Warnock supporter from Kennesaw. “Again.”
Matt Brown contributed to this report.
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