Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman Colin McRae denounced the state for not allowing Senate runoff voters to cast early ballots on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman Colin McRae speaks at a press conference in Savannah on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman Colin McRae speaks at a press conference in Savannah on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Credit: Benjamin Payne / GPB News

Ahead of the tightly contested runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, a top election official in Georgia's largest county outside of metro Atlanta has criticized the state for not allowing early voting to be offered on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman Colin McRae said Wednesday that he has contacted Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office to express his “disappointment that there has not been some effort to try to overcome” the lack of any Saturday early voting.

That leaves only one day of weekend early voting for the runoff: Sunday, Nov. 27. Early voting cannot legally begin until the general election is certified — for which the state has set a target date of Monday, Nov. 21 — and cannot legally occur during the weekend before Election Day on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

“In my opinion — my personal opinion — there is a read of the statute that would allow the Secretary of State to permit Saturday voting,” said McRae, referring to a 2016 law that Raffensperger has interpreted as prohibiting voting from occurring Nov. 26, as it comes two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday originally meant to celebrate Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Raffensperger's interpretation of the law is currently being challenged in court, as a coalition of Democratic groups — including Warnock's campaign — filed a lawsuit this week in Fulton County seeking to allow early voting on Nov. 26. They argue that the relevant section of the law applies only to primary and general elections, not runoffs.

Raffensperger issued a statement criticizing the lawsuit, saying, “If recent elections prove one thing, it's that voters expect candidates to focus on winning at the ballot box — not at the courthouse.”

When asked by GPB News for comment on Raffensperger's statement, McRae said, “I would flip it a little bit and say that candidates expect the rules of elections to be nonpartisan. … So, when there is that kind of arbitrary elimination of a Saturday vote, an appeal is made to reconsider and that request is denied, there's no choice but to go to the court system.”

McRae maintained that he “takes no position on Raffensperger's statement itself, nor about the validity” of the arguments in the Democratic coalition's lawsuit, but expressed his support for the addition of Saturday early voting, describing it as “a change that I think most reasonable people would agree needs to be made. We don't need to be eliminating a day of early voting in order to all sit around a table and remember Robert E. Lee.”

Voter turnout in Chatham County could prove pivotal to the outcome of the senate runoff, as Warnock — a Savannah native — carried the county by a wide 20-point margin over Walker in the general election.

In the event that early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26, is ruled permissible by a court or the state otherwise changes its guidance, McRae said that the Chatham County Board of Registrars has prepared a contingency plan that would see early voting begin that day.

If there is no change in Raffensperger's interpretation, then early voting in Chatham County will begin Sunday, Nov. 27.