The secretary of state’s office reported that at least 70,000 people voted Saturday. The first Saturday of early voting for the general election drew 79,682 people, more than double the number in 2018. Early voting will continue through Friday.
Those taking advantage of Saturday to vote include college students heading home for Thanksgiving, busy police and ambulance crews, lifelong voters who consistently vote on the first day they are allowed to vote, and retirees seeking an escape from vacation guests.
“We had a house full of companies. It gave me a good excuse to hang out for a while,” said Bill Chappelle, a Walker supporter from Bartow County who said he usually votes early.
Chapel said he hoped Saturday’s vote would ultimately help Walker, not Warnock, who filed a lawsuit that caused voting here to open a day earlier than state election officials had planned.Democrats organized more events around Saturday’s early voting and pushed that option over the past week over Republicans.
A total of 27 counties voted Saturday, offering more opportunities to voters who may be available this week. Participating counties include most of the state’s major metro areas and several rural counties, ensuring slightly more than half the state’s population has the opportunity to vote on Saturday.
That’s despite Warnock getting around 35,000 more votes than Walker in the November ballot. He fell short of the 50 percent outright victory threshold in August’s general election, triggering a runoff and prolonging one of the costliest Senate races of the midterms. An AARP poll released last week showed Warnock leading Walker 51 percent to 47 percent, with a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
Warnock, who won his seat in a special runoff election in January 2021, is seeking a full six-year term. If he wins in December. 6. Democrats will hold 51 seats in the Senate.
Initially, the Georgia secretary of state said counties would be allowed to hold Saturday ballots in runoff elections, but after a decision was made that parts of Georgia’s election law prohibiting voting two days after the holidays prohibited Saturday voting under the new runoff compressed timetable Changed the course of the new law.
Democrats, led by Warnock’s campaign, are suing the state, saying the policy doesn’t apply to the runoff. A Fulton County judge sided with Warnock, the state Democrat and the Democratic Senate campaign committee in the case. The state’s Republican attorney general and state and national Republicans lost appeals in state court.
In a fundraising email, Walker’s campaign told supporters that the decision to allow Saturday’s vote “was like coming out after halftime and learning that the referees had changed the rules for the rest of the game.”
The decision on whether to hold Saturday’s vote then fell to the counties. In Bartow County, northwest of Atlanta, the Board of Elections decided to call a poll at a polling place in Cartersville. Walker won the county by 50 points earlier this month.
Peggy Brown, a Democrat on the Bartow Elections Commission, noted the irony that two Democrats and one independent on the five-seat commission pushed for Saturday’s vote in Crimson County, while the commission Two of the Republicans voted against it.
“They don’t think it’s worth the money and it’s not going to turn out very well, but I think we’re going to prove them wrong,” Brown said, speaking to a steady stream of voters — including Republicans and Democrats. — circling around polling stations at municipal buildings.
The extra day of voting costs $1,100, Brown said, and the board was initially unsure if they had enough staff, given holiday travel and out-of-town guests.
The state’s 2021 election law requires all Georgia counties to hold early voting between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the weekday preceding the runoff election. Several counties, including many of the state’s most populous, planned to hold Sunday ballots the weekend before requiring early voting to begin, and passed trigger policies that would fund Saturday ballots if they were found to be legal.
The public debate and lawsuits over Saturday’s ballot are the latest clashes over the state’s election law, which was overhauled by the controversial 2021 ballot law that overhauls absentee ballots, runoffs, early voting and election administration policies, among others. Policy has had a major impact. The 2022 midterm elections are the first test of the Election Integrity Act, also known as SB 202. The law’s interaction with other parts of Georgia’s election code created confusion as the law was put into practice.
Some voters said they didn’t want to risk waiting until Election Day to vote.
“If there were any glitches or anything like that that day, then you kind of, you know, screwed up,” said Douglas Edwards, a dentist from Cartersville who supported Warnock. “If anything happens today we can always come back on Tuesday.”
Many students expressed concern about their absentee ballots and how easy it will be to vote Saturday to coincide with when they will be home for Thanksgiving.
“I’m currently interning out of state and I’m upset that I didn’t receive an absentee ballot in time to vote for the midterm elections,” said master’s student Katie Poe. “I’m in town for the holidays, and voting this Saturday is my only chance to actually vote in person, maybe reliably.”
“I’ve had a lot of trouble with absentee voting in the past. It’s kind of frustrating to only be able to vote when I’m here because it’s so important to me,” she added.
“I’m a college student at a Boston school, and this is pretty much the only chance I get to vote in person. So I have to go out and vote, and it’s a long line, but we’re doing what we can to wait,” said the Cobb County Senior Katherine McBride said she was home for Thanksgiving.
McBride said she voted absentee in the general election earlier this month but had to wait two to three weeks to cast her ballot and was concerned that the ballot would not reach her in time. So she decided to go to the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration Board polling place in Marietta on Saturday to vote in person.
Kavita Kar, a first-year Stanford student from Marietta who votes at the same venue, has similar concerns about absentee voting.
“I’m going back to college tomorrow,” Carr said of her decision to vote Saturday. “During the last election, many of my friends did not receive their ballots from Cobb County on time.”
Hundreds of voters lined up at the Cobb polling place Saturday afternoon, waiting about two hours to cast their ballots. Warnock beat Cobb County by 16 points.
Despite being a Democratic-led effort, both Republicans and Democrats praised Saturday’s vote for making it easier to vote around work and travel plans.
“It’s hard to get out the week you’re moving dirt,” said Kevin Tomlin, a Republican and heavy equipment operator from Bartow County.
“With my schedule, we always vote early,” said Bill Starr, a pro-Walker police officer from Taylorsville. “It gives everyone a chance to leave. It’s not going to help a particular party.”
“I work for an ambulance company, 12-hour days, and this election is really important,” said Delores Flanagan, a Warnock supporter. “So I knew I wanted to vote in the first place.”
“I usually do absentee ballots. But the last time I tried to do it, it took so long to actually get a ballot and I was worried that I might not be able to vote,” Flanagan said of her willingness to wait within two hours Vote in Cobb County.
Sandy Griffin, a Walker supporter from Aragon, noted that it’s “a little weird” that each county has to decide whether to vote early. So it’s hard to keep track of our operating hours,” she said.
Griffin said she and her husband made travel plans ahead of the runoff, so they welcomed being able to vote on Saturday. “We’re leaving town and we need early voting today and I’m glad they’re finally open.”
Still, Griffin, a Republican, said she worried the extra day would help Democrats.
“I’m afraid they will. It’s a fear, and it’s Sunday, too, because that’s when they can send a bus to church people,” she said.
Voters interviewed by The Washington Post said they were used to long lines and had to go back to the polls for a runoff — and Saturday’s vote was just another chance to take part in a seemingly never-ending election season.
“We’ll do it again and again,” said Warnock supporter Robert Shawfer, from Kennesaw. “And then again.”
Matt Brown contributed to this report.