Judge weighs 'urgent' decision on whether to allow early voting in Georgia runoff on Saturday after Thanksgiving

By Tierney Sneed, Jessica Schneider, Devon M. Sayers and Nick Valencia, CNNUpdated: Fri, 18 Nov 2022 18:25:29 GMTSource: CNNA Georgia judge acknowledged on Friday that "time was of the essence" as he

By Tierney Sneed, Jessica Schneider, Devon M. Sayers and Nick Valencia, CNN

Updated: Fri, 18 Nov 2022 18:25:29 GMT

Source: CNN

A Georgia judge acknowledged on Friday that "time was of the essence" as he decides whether to allow early voting on Saturday, November 26, in the state's US Senate run-off election, though he did not give a specific timeframe for when he will issue a ruling.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox only said at a hearing Friday that it would come at an "appropriate time."

Over the course of the 90-minute hearing, Cox asked questions of both sides in the Democratic lawsuit challenging state guidance barring voting on that day. But the judge gave little hint of where he was leaning on the case.

"This is a time-urgent situation," Cox said on Friday.

The lawsuit was brought earlier this week by Sen. Raphael Warnock's campaign, joined by the Georgia Democratic Party and Democrats' Senate campaign arm, after the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, issued guidance barring counties from offering early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

State election officials are pointing to part of the election code that bars early voting on Saturday when there is a state holiday the Thursday or Friday before. Democrats contend that provision does not apply to runoff elections. They have pointed to comments made by state officials earlier this month suggesting counties could off early voting on that Saturday, as well as how it was offered the Saturday after Christmas in 2020.

"This last-minute reversal is not just wrong on the law, but it also implicates a fundamental right in our democracy," Uzoma Nkwonta, a lawyer for the Democrats, said at Friday's hearing.

Charlene McGowan, a Georgia assistant attorney general defending the state officials' interpretation of the law, said that the law had changed since 2020. She said it was an "unfortunate turn of events" that the calendar fell in a way that would not allow counties to offer early voting on that Saturday, but that the court's job was not to decide the best policy, as that determination was left to the legislature.

Cox's questions included queries about what legal weight he should give the comments from the state officials previously indicating that counties could make early voting available on November 26. He also asked whether the state's policy could be seen as a "reasonable" interpretation of the law. The Democrats' lawyer argued it was not, while Georgia's attorney said it was both the reasonable and "clear" interpretation of the statute.

"No one's right to vote is being denied here," McGowan said.

The prohibition on early voting on Saturdays that fall after a Thursday or Friday state holiday stems from legislation passed in 2016. In 2021, the Republican-led state legislature significantly reduced the runoff period, and it will end this year on December 6.

In addition to Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday, Georgia also observes a state holiday on Friday.