Apparently the fact that folks won’t be able to vote on the Saturday after Thanksgiving has become a national story. The AJC has repeatedly reminded us that the Friday after Thanksgiving, which most people know as Black Friday and the official start of the Christmas shopping season, used to be known to Georgia’s state employees as Robert E Lee’s birthday (observed). Governor Nathan Deal ended that practice six years ago, but the AJC felt it important to remind the world, more than once, that Lee’s birthday used to be observed here in the Peach State. Folks on Twitter reacted in the calm, rational fashion we’ve grown accustomed to, declaring that Jim Crow is alive and well, and Georgia is even more racists that we ever could have imagined.
Why can’t we vote on the Saturday after Thanksgiving? Here’s your answer:
“It’s not our choice. It’s literally in black-letter law that the Saturday following a state holiday cannot be used for early voting,” said Interim Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling. “We all thought there was going to be Saturday voting until we looked at the law really closely.”
Why would the law say that? Let me tell you how this came about.
In 2015 there were two special elections for state House held in July. The election ended on July 14, 2015 to be exact. In 2015, Independence Day was a Saturday, which meant that the holiday for state employees (and most of the rest of us) was observed on Friday July 3rd. As Advanced In Person Voting was taking place during the Independence Day holiday this meant that polls were closed on Friday July 3rd, but had to reopen on Saturday July 4th, the actual Independence Day. As you can imagine, elections employees weren’t happy about having to work on Independence Day, and while I can’t find what turnout looked like on that day, I can’t imagine large numbers of folks put down their hot dogs to go vote when there were plenty of other opportunities for them to do so.
In the 2016 Legislative Session, SB 199 passed to correct this situation. You can read the full bill here. You can also see that this bill passed the House and Senate with strong bi-partisan support. I don’t know what was on the minds of Legislators as they cast their vote in support of this bill, but I doubt many were feeling warm thoughts for Robert E Lee as they mashed the green buttons on their desk. I also doubt they anticipated a runoff for U.S. Senate would take place over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2022.
I should also mention that for some reason, shortening Georgia’s runoff from 9 excruciating weeks to 4 excruciating weeks seems to be controversial. For decades, Georgia had a 4 week runoff, and only moved to 9 weeks under order of a federal Judge. The Judge allowed other states to use ranked choice voting for UOCAVA voters as a way to avoid the 9 week runoff. Georgia refused, but in 2021 as part of SB 202, Georgia took advantage of that opportunity and now uses ranked choice voting for UOCAVA voters. Seriously though, did anyone really enjoy the 9 week runoff? As our President might say “come on man.”
No law is perfect, and no person is wise enough to foresee see all the possible consequences of a rather minor piece of legislation meant to address a specific incident. I know we’re in the middle of a contentions U.S. Senate race. I know both sides are looking for every advantage they can gain. I also know the media is very happy to fan the flames of controversy to increase readership – and Elon hasn’t fixed Twitter yet. But I’d like to suggest we all stop assuming our lawmakers are racists for trying to solve a problem, and stop assuming half our neighbors are closet Klansmen.
If we want to be able to vote on Black Friday and the Saturday after Thanksgiving, well, get someone to introduce a bill next year and get it passed into law. Then Gabriel Sterling will say “It’s not our choice. It’s literally in black-letter law that the Saturday following a state holiday MUST be used for early voting.”
If you change the law, I for one won’t be lining up to vote during Thanksgiving weekend. I’ll be spending time with my family and friends, and I don’t really want to force our state’s election workers to interrupt their time with family and friends when there are plenty of other days I can exercise my right to vote.