Urban County Council considers lifting ban on Election Day alcohol sales

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJune 15, 2014 

If Lexington decided to lift a ban dating to Prohibition, local bars could be open during polling hours on Election Day. One of the arguments for lifting the ban is the loss of revenue for businesses and for the state in sales taxes.

BROOKE DIDONATO | STAFF

Come November, Fayette County residents could be able to do something they haven't done since the days of Prohibition: buy booze while the polls are open on Election Day.

The Urban County Council is considering lifting a ban on Election Day alcohol sales after the General Assembly passed a law in 2013 that allowed local governments to lift the ban.

At the time the law was passed, Kentucky and South Carolina were the only states that still had a ban on Election Day sales. The ban was a holdover from the Prohibition era when saloons sometimes served as polling places.

The South Carolina legislature recently voted to lift the Election Day ban. Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill June 6.

Lexington Vice Mayor Linda Gorton has asked that the matter be referred to the council's General Government Committee. A date for a hearing has not been set, but Gorton hopes the matter will come up for a vote well before the general election on Nov. 4.

"It's an outdated law," she said.

Gorton said that there have been concerns that people would use alcohol to buy votes. But prohibiting alcohol sales on Election Day does not stop corruption at the polls.

"They can buy it the day before," Gorton said. "It's just a totally outdated law."

The ban also is costing Kentucky money, according to the alcohol industry.

Data provided by the Distillers Spirits Council of the United States in 2013 indicated Kentucky loses more than $625,000 a year in sales tax revenue because of the ban. It is estimated that during most election years, Kentucky retail stores, bars and restaurants lose more than $4.5 million total revenue due to the ban, which prohibits sales while the polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time.

Kentucky's tourism industry also is dependent on booze tourism. Kentucky's Bourbon Trail has become one of the state's biggest draws. In 2013, there were nearly 750,000 visits to Kentucky distilleries.

Gorton said she did not expect much opposition to the proposal. Many local governments assumed that when the legislature passed Senate Bill 13 in 2013 the ban would be lifted automatically.

But it actually takes a vote of the local government, Gorton said.

It's not clear how many other local governments have lifted the Election Day alcohol sales ban. Louisville lifted the ban this year.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall

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