South Carolina considers ending ban on Election Day alcohol sales

Imagine the anguish of a staffer working for a losing campaign once the polls close. All those hours, all that work, for naught. That staffer sure could use a drink. But in South Carolina, the drink will have to wait. The Palmetto State is the only state in the country that still bans alcohol sales on Election Day.

Now, the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee has given its preliminary approval to a bill that would allow alcohol sales on Election Day.

Prohibiting the sales of alcohol on Election Day began as a way to combat vote-buying. Holding big boozy parties near polling places was a great way to turn out the vote. It wasn’t uncommon for polling places to be located in saloons; George Washington spent his entire campaign budget during his first run for Virginia’s House of Burgesses, in 1758, on 160 gallons of liquor he served to voters.

Prohibition ended the fun, and many states passed legislation making Election Day dry.

“They were worried that people’s votes could be bought by alcohol on Election Day, which is about the silliest thing ever,” said South Carolina state Rep. Todd Rutherford (D), the bill’s lead sponsor. “But I’ve tried for about three years not to change it, and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to do so, the first time the bill has made it out of subcommittee.”

In recent years, though, most states have nixed those rules; between 2008 and 2012, West Virginia, Indiana, Utah, Idaho and Delaware all ended Election Day booze bans. Last year, Kentucky ended theirs. Only South Carolina remains.

But the state House Judiciary Committee has added a new wrinkle: In exchange for allowing alcohol sales on Election Day, the committee added an amendment that would require liquor not be sold on Christmas Day.

That has the booze industry up in arms. After all, there are two Christmases for every Election Day. And Christmas Day sales can actually outweigh Election Day sales: Christmas falls on different days of the week in different years, but Election Day always lands on a Tuesday, one of the worst days for sales in any given week. The Distilled Spirits Council, the D.C.-based industry trade group, opposes the bill because of the Christmas Day ban.

This isn’t the first time South Carolina lawmakers have tried to roll back the Election Day ban, but previous bills have run into legislative road blocks. Rutherford, the lead sponsor, said the bill has “a good chance” of making it through this year. As members consider the measure, they might think of the poor staffers who have to run their next campaigns.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · March 20