Baldwin County to start early voting Saturday

Nov. 23—It's election time once again in Baldwin County and the other 158 counties across Georgia.

Local voters wishing to cast their ballots early are reminded they can do so beginning this Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Baldwin County Voter Registrar's Office. The office is located in the county government complex off North Columbia Street in Milledgeville.

Unlike the general election ballot on Nov. 8, which filled it with lots of candidates and amendment questions, the runoff election ballot will feature only two political races. And not all voters will cast a vote in one of those races.

"We're one of the only counties in middle Georgia, aside from Macon-Bibb and in south Georgia who will be holding early voting Saturday," according to Baldwin County Chief Deputy Voter Registrar Randy Morrow. "None of the other counties around us are holding early voting this Saturday."

Only residents living in District 5 in Milledgeville will cast a vote for candidates seeking a seat on Milledgeville City Council. Those in District 5 will vote for either Shonya Mapp or Oscar Davis Jr.

All those voting in Baldwin County will decide between U.S. Sen. Ralphael Warnock and Herschel Walker as to who will win the Senate seat.

The runoff election between those two candidates is needed because neither of them gained the majority of votes in the general election to avoid a runoff.

Warnock, a Democrat, has served Georgians in the United States Senate for nearly two years. Walker, meanwhile, is a Republican who is being supported by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and former Pres. Donald J. Trump.

Local elections officials didn't decide one way or the other until late Monday afternoon whether or not to go forward with the Saturday early voting, which was optional and legal for counties to do following a court ruling.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled Monday that counties throughout the state may offer early voting the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Last week, Warnock's campaign, as well as the Democratic Party of Georgia, along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, filed suit against Georgia. Through attorneys, they argued that early voting should be allowed on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

The lawsuit challenged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's interpretation of state law that prohibits voting this Saturday because it falls immediately after a state holiday.

Thanksgiving Day is this Thursday, and the following day, Friday, is considered a state holiday.

Last Friday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cox sided with Warnock's campaign and the groups that supported the lawsuit against the state.

Attorneys representing the State of Georgia, along with the Georgia Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed emergency notice of appeal Monday with the Georgia Court of Appeals. The court sided with the lower court's ruling making early voting on Saturday legal in the counties that opted for it.

Acting on the court's ruling earlier in the day, an emergency called meeting of the Baldwin County Board of Voter Registrars decided some form of action was necessary regarding whether to allow early voting Saturday or decline.

The Union-Recorder, did not receive notice of the meeting. There was no notice of an agenda posted on the door of the Baldwin County Voter Registrar's Office.

It was only after Felix Jones, who serves as chief voter registrar of Baldwin County, called the meeting of the five-member panel, received comments from a couple of residents, as well as Milledgeville Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan, that the doors of the office opened to the public as required by law.

"I found about it after the fact," Baldwin County attorney McRee said, noting such happened during a telephone call between him and Jones. "He told me that it was an emergency meeting to decide whether to hold early voting Saturday or not because of the ruling that was handed down in Atlanta on whether you could vote early on Saturday or not."

McRee said as far as he was concerned, the public was there, even though there was no official notice of the meeting being called.

"And I think the public that was there was happy," McRee said.

The county attorney said he believed if the board was meeting under an emergency situation with late notice that they were OK.

"They felt like they needed to go ahead and act because the ruling didn't come down from the appellant court until earlier in the day on (Monday), and with the holiday coming up they were under such a timeframe to get things ready to vote early Saturday," McRee said. "They not only had to let the public know that they were going to be voting Saturday, but they had to make arrangements for early voting that day, and they felt they couldn't wait another day to conduct the meeting under those circumstances."

McRee said had it been a regular called meeting by the board, they would have needed to give 24 hours notice and notify the legal organ prior to holding the meeting.

The county attorney said he told Jones that the board had to allow the public inside the meeting room and that any vote taken about the matter had to be taken in the presence of the public.

Once the meeting got underway and was open to the public, as the law requires, Jones called for a vote concerning whether the county would hold early voting on Saturday.

In a 3-1 vote, board members decided to go forward with early voting Saturday.

The three board members who approved included the Rev. Tony Fraley, Natalie Fields and Glenda Brown.

Baldwin County Chief Deputy Registrar Randy Morrow, who also serves as board member, said he was lone holdout.

"I didn't vote for it because our staff had already made plans for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and the fact that I knew we needed a staff to make early voting possible," Morrow told the newspaper Tuesday morning.

Early voting will resume Monday, Nov. 28, at the county government complex at 8:30 a.m. at continue through Friday, Nov. 2.