Early voting kicks off in the second round of Georgia’s Senate as legal challenges surrounding access mount

Early voting in Georgia’s December 6 second round began Tuesday in at least one of the state’s 159 counties as Democrat-led legal efforts to expand options for early voting in the election continued .

Monday’s general election certification by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger allowed some voters to cast their ballots for incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock or Republican nominee Herschel Walker a few days ahead of schedule.

Early second-round voting could not begin until results for the November 8 general election were certified, and the decision to allow early in-person voting is made at the county level. Until now, only Douglas County in the greater Atlanta area would open polling stations on Tuesday and Wednesday. Nearby DeKalb County will open one polling station on Wednesday. Early voting must begin statewide on Nov. 28 and end on Dec. 2, though counties now have the option to offer a few extra days this week.

The vote certification and launch of the second round come after Georgia shattered all previous early election turnout numbers earlier this month. Warnock and Walker’s battle for the Senate seat was sent to a runoff when neither candidate received 50% of the state’s total vote.

People wait in line for early voting for the midterm elections at Ponce De Leon Library on November 4, 2022 in Atlanta.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

“Our 2022 general election was a huge success,” Raffensperger said after certifying the Nov. 8 vote. “Early certification reflects that success. Georgia struck the balance between accessibility and security, and Georgia’s election administrators worked tirelessly to get the job done. We are so grateful for their work.”

Warnock won his 2021 seat in a runoff election against former Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, during which time the balance of power in the Senate rested on his shoulders and those of his now Democratic Senate colleague, then-Representative. Jon Ossoff, who also fought for his seat in overtime against former GOP Senator David Perdue.

PHOTO: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger addresses the media about the progress of the early vote on Oct. 25, 2022, in Atlanta.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks to the media about the progress of the early vote on October 25, 2022 in Atlanta.

Elia Nouvelage/Getty Images, FILE

Turnout in those elections was comparable to the general election figures. Warnock declared victory after securing a majority of 4,484,954 votes in the second round of the 2021 election, while 4,914,361 votes were cast in the 2020 general election.

Georgia Secretary of State spokesman Robert Sinners told ABC News on Tuesday that the office also expects a “strong voter turnout” in this election.

The showdown between Warnock and Walker won’t determine who controls the U.S. Senate, but Democrats are holding their breath for a favorable outcome because a 51-seat majority would make exercising power much easier. Republicans have also applied political pressure to win the contest, pointing to successes they’ve been able to achieve in an evenly divided Senate.

“If Herschel wins, we get a 50/50 senate. Okay? Now it would be better if we were on 51, 52, 53, but if he wins, we can block bad legislation because it takes 51 plus to get this stuff done,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., while bumping for Walker in Augusta last week.

The start of early voting comes amid widespread confusion over Georgia’s early voting process.

A Georgia appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court order allowing counties to vote on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in the upcoming runoff election, which has been advanced by Warnock’s campaign and other Democrats. On Tuesday, state and country Republicans filed an emergency petition with Georgia’s Supreme Court to block Saturday’s vote.

PHOTO: Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker addresses a crowd gathered for a rally with prominent Republicans on November 21, 2022 in Milton, Georgia.

Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker addresses a crowd gathered for a rally with prominent Republicans on November 21, 2022 in Milton, Georgia.

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Walker, for his part, has made comments in recent weeks that he was unsure if early voting was even allowed during runoff elections, noting that the process should be kept short.

“They have a day? Two days? A week! A week? We should shorten it from a week. Well, if they give you a week, take that week and do that. You have to go out and vote,” said he at a recent campaign event when he was told that voting will take place before the second round.

Ongoing legal challenges for early voting on November 26

Earlier this month, Raffensperger told county election officials that early voting couldn’t take place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving because state law says it’s illegal on a Saturday if there’s a holiday on the Thursday or Friday that precedes it.

Warnock’s campaign, the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sued the state of Georgia earlier this month, arguing that Raffensperger “misreads” the state’s election law and “picks cherries” and that the state’s ban on the opening election sites after a holiday applies to general elections and primaries, not runoffs.

PHOTO: Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate Senator Raphael Warnock speaks at a news conference on Nov. 10, 2022, in Atlanta.

Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Senator Raphael Warnock speaks at a news conference on Nov. 10, 2022, in Atlanta.

Brynn Anderson/AP

On Monday, a Georgia appeals court denied a state request to stay the ruling of a lower court that said state law allows early voting that day.

Then, on Tuesday, the Georgia Republican Party, the Senate Republican National Committee and the Republican National Committee filed an emergency petition with the Georgia Supreme Court to block that day’s vote.

The call comes as a growing list of counties has begun offering that date to voters — more than 18 have done so announced they will be offering early voting on Saturday, November 26.

Georgia’s Senate runoff has attracted high-profile surrogates moving to the final stretch

Now that voting for the contest has begun, the national star power has also started planning campaign events for their respective candidates.

On December 1, former President Barack Obama will return to Atlanta to campaign for Warnock and encourage Georgians to cast their ballots during the final days of early in-person voting.

Obama also came to Georgia in the last days ahead of the November 8 general election race, in which the Warnock campaign said large groups of rally-goers had signed up to take part in door knocking.

Warnock has not committed to knocking down President Joe Biden to boost his race, noting that he doesn’t have “that much time” left in the race to knock down the current Democratic standard bearer.

“We’ll see, we don’t have that much time,” he said at a campaign event last week. “We’ll see who comes.”

Walker did not answer questions from ABC News about whether his party’s former leader, Donald Trump, would be asked to campaign for him, while other GOP surrogates such as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and recently re-elected Governor Brian Kemp has jumped on the trail on his behalf.

National and country Republican officials warned how a Trump announcement in 2024 could boost Herschel Walker’s chances in the second round. Yet during Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement last week, Trump specifically expressed support for Walker.

“We all have to work very hard for a gentleman and wonderful person named Herschel Walker, a wonderful human being who loves our country and will be a great United States Senator,” Trump said.

Just days after those comments, Warnock — who has sought to shed light on his rival’s close relationship with the former president, especially after Trump-backed candidates suffered a series of midterm losses during the general election — released an ad airing those comments with photos of the two of them together. At the end of the 30-second ad, a message appears: “Stop Donald Trump. Stop Herschel Walker.”

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