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Early voting kicks off in Georgia’s Senate runoff as legal challenges on access mount

Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Early voting in Georgia’s Dec. 6 runoff kicked off Tuesday in at least one of the state’s 159 counties as Democrat-led efforts to expand the election’s early vote options have continued.

General election vote certification on Monday by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger allowed some voters to cast their ballots for Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock or Republican candidate Herschel Walker a few days ahead of schedule.

Early voting in the runoff election could not start until the results for the Nov. 8 general election were certified, and the decision to allow early in-person voting happens at the county level. So far, only Douglas County in the greater Atlanta region was set to open polling locations Tuesday and Wednesday. Nearby DeKalb County will open up one polling location on Wednesday. Early voting must begin statewide on Nov. 28 and end on Dec. 2, though counties now have the option of offering some additional days this week.

The vote certification and the launch of the runoff election comes after Georgia shattered all past early voting 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.

“Our 2022 General Election was a tremendous success,” said Raffensperger after he certified the Nov. 8 votes. “Early certification reflects that success. Georgia has struck the balance between accessibility and security, and Georgia’s election administrators worked tirelessly to get the job done. We are so thankful for their work.”

Warnock won his seat in 2021 during a runoff election against former Republican Sen. 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-Rep. Jon Ossoff, who was also fighting in overtime for his seat against former GOP Sen. David Perdue.

comparable to general election numbers. Warnock declared victory after securing the majority of 4,484,954 votes in the runoff election in 2021, while 4,914,361 ballots cast during the general election of 2020.

Georgia secretary of state spokesperson Robert Sinners told ABC News in a statement Tuesday that the office also anticipates “strong turnout” this election.

The faceoff between Warnock and Walker will not determine who controls the U.S. Senate, but Democrats have been holding their breath for a favorable outcome because a 51-seat majority would make wielding power much easier. Republicans have also put political pressure on winning the contest, pointing to successes they’ve been able to achieve in an evenly split Senate.

“When Herschel wins, we’re gonna have a 50/50 Senate. Alright? Now it’d be better if we were at 51, 52, 53 but by him winning, we will be able to block some bad legislation because it takes 51 plus to get this stuff done,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., while stumping for Walker last week in Augusta.

The beginning of early voting comes amid widespread confusion about the process of Georgia early runoff voting.

A Georgia appeals court on Monday left in place a lower court order allowing counties to offer voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for the upcoming runoff election, which was brought up by Warnock’s campaign and other Democrats. On Tuesday, national and statewide Republicans filed an emergency petition in the Georgia Supreme Court to block Saturday voting.

For his part, Walker has made comments in recent weeks that he was unsure early voting was even permitted during runoff elections, noting that the process should be kept on the shorter side.

“They have one day? Two days? One week! A week? We ought to cut it down from a week. Well, if they give you a week, take that week and do that. You’ve got to get out and vote,” he said during a recent campaign event when told that there will be voting before the runoff.

Ongoing legal challenges to early voting on Nov. 26

Earlier this month, Raffensperger told county election officials that early voting could not continue on the Saturday after Thanksgiving because state law says it is illegal on a Saturday if there is a holiday on the Thursday or Friday preceding 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” and “cherry-picks” the state’s election law and that the state ban on opening election sites after a holiday applies to general elections and primaries, not runoffs.

On Monday, a Georgia appeals court declined a request by the state to stay a lower court’s ruling that said state law allows early voting that day.

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

The appeal comes as a growing list of counties have started to offer that date for voters — over 18 have announced they will offer early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26.

Georgia’s Senate runoff has attracted high-profile surrogates moving into the last stretch

As voting has now commenced for the contest, so too has national starpower started to schedule campaign events for their respective candidates.

On Dec. 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 final days ahead of the general election race on Nov. 8, during which the Warnock campaign said that large swaths of rally-goers signed up to participate in door knocking shifts.

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

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

Walker has not answered questions from ABC News about whether his party’s former leader, Donald Trump, would be asked to come down to campaign for him, while other GOP surrogates like Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and recently reelected Gov. Brian Kemp have jumped on the trail on his behalf.

National and statewide Republican officials cautioned how a Trump 2024 announcement could upend Herschel Walker’s chances in the runoff. Still, during Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement last week, he specifically voiced his support for Walker.

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

Just days after those comments, Warnock– who has tried to illuminate his rival’s closeness with the former president, especially after Trump-backed candidates suffered a number of midterm losses during the general election–released an ad broadcasting those remarks 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.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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