Shorter voting window could reduce runoff turnout in Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock’s first runoff in 2021 was a titanic nine-week contest to control the Senate, which included three weeks of in-person early voting and numerous mail-in ballots.

Warnock’s win over Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler — and Democrat Jon Ossoff’s tilt against Republican David Perdue — ended in two Democratic victories that gave the party control of a 50-50 Senate, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s ability to sever ties.

But the December 6 runoff will not be for Senate control this time, with Democrats retaining seats in Arizona and Nevada earlier this month. The successful re-election bids of the senses. Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto were what Democrats needed to keep the thinnest of margins in the chamber.

Georgia requires a runoff if a candidate does not win a majority in the party primary or general election. Neither Warnock nor Republican Herschel Walker reached 50%.

Under Georgia’s 2021 election law, there will only be four weeks until the second round – with Thanksgiving in the middle. Many Georgians will only be offered five weekdays of in-person early voting starting Nov. 28. And the June run-off showed that the time to receive and return mail-in ballots can be very tight.

These changes could disadvantage Democrats, who tend to push early voting and mail-in voting more than Republicans. Because the 2021 law makes it harder to apply for mail-in ballots, Democrats urged supporters to vote early in person in October.

Democratic U.S. Representative Hank Johnson said it would be hard to rekindle the kind of enthusiasm for early voting that Democrats displayed ahead of the general election, when overall early voting set a new midterm record.

“We have Thanksgiving weekend through Tuesday, December 6 to get those votes, and there will be a lot of hard work over the holidays and into the holiday season to make sure we get that vote,” Johnson said. “I think voters are aware that our future is still in jeopardy, and we can make a difference in Georgia for the good of the nation. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. »

Stephen Lawson, who worked for Loeffler before their 2021 loss to Warnock, recalled that even with a two-month gap between the 2020 general election and the second round “you had voters who weren’t aware of the date of the second round and had to be reminded that it was not over. Lawson now leads the 34N22 political action committee supporting Walker.

The changes could lead to lower turnout and possibly a return to Georgia’s old runoff rules before 2021, when Republicans had clear advantages.

“Republicans are better at getting their voters back for a runoff,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a lobbyist who served as Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue’s chief of staff and later national finance co-chair for Republican Mitt’s 2012 presidential campaign. Romney.

No one who was not on the lists before November 8 can register to vote now. The last day to register was November 7.

Georgia’s 159 counties can open early voting before Nov. 28 if they can. But they can’t begin until the state certifies a general election, currently scheduled for Nov. 21, Under Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling said.

But only 10 counties offered more than the prescribed five days in the June primary run-off, as the first statewide elections were held with a shortened run-off period. Additionally, state law prohibits in-person early voting on a holiday or the Saturday after a holiday. Because Thanksgiving and the following Friday are holidays, there will be no voting on Saturday until the second round.

Some urban counties are likely to offer early in-person voting on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and more ambitious counties could also offer voting on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, if the race is certified on Nov. 21.

Mail-in ballots can be requested now until November 28. About 150,000 people who voted by mail in the November election will automatically receive a ballot for the second round. But Associated Press reports found some counties were slow to send out ballots before the second round, raising questions about whether voters could receive and return them on time.

Republicans say the four-week runoff is doable, noting it was the law in Georgia before 2013. A federal judge then found military and foreign voters didn’t have enough time to return ballots by correspondence, ordering nine weeks instead. In 2021, lawmakers solved this problem by adding ranked ballots for foreign voters, allowing them to choose additional candidates in the event of a second round.

“The counties are already ready. They know we’re going to have that time frame,” Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told reporters on Wednesday.

Opponents of Georgia’s election law say changes to mail-in voting have hurt voters, challenging Republican claims that high turnout proves the law hasn’t hurt anyone.

“We know that members of our community have not had fair and equal access to mail-in voting,” Aisha Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, said in an online press conference Wednesday.

Liberal groups swear they will not be overwhelmed. Most do not endorse the candidates but are pushing progressive policies broadly in line with Democrats and are a key cog in the Democratic turnout machine.

“The way we won in 2021, you see it happening again right now,” said Hillary Holley of Care in Action, which advocates for domestic workers. “And so yes, is this runoff shorter? Absolutely. And do we need everyone to start planning their vote now? Absolutely.”

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