Cheers! SC Bill Aims to Lift Booze Ban on Election Day

Wednesday, 05 Mar 2014 01:54 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Alcohol and politics may finally mix in South Carolina, the final state in the country where the sale of booze is banned on the day ballots are cast.

A bill has been introduced in the state Legislature that would allow — for the first time in state history — vodka, whiskey, and scotch to be sold out of liquor stores when the polls are open, reports South Carolina's The State newspaper.

"Nobody could give me a good reason why we don't do it," said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, a Democrat and the bill's main sponsor. "It's an arbitrary day that you're telling liquor stores not to open. Government needs to stay out of private business."

Local historian Walter Edgar told The State the ban on liquor sales on election days dates back to Colonial times when taverns were polling centers, and voters were bribed with drinks.

"It was an easy way to get people to vote your way," Edgar said.

The booze ban was still in place in six states until 2008. Kentucky only repealed the law last year, leaving the Palmetto State as the last remaining holdout.

Restaurants and bars can serve alcohol on Election Day in South Carolina, but not retail stores, such as and the Total Wine chain and spirits giant Diageo, which are supporting the bill.

The prohibition costs store owners $1.1 million a year and the state $105,000 in taxes, according to Jay Hibbard, vice president for government relations for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade association representing alcohol producers and marketers.

The bill also could prevent S.C. governors from forcing liquor stores to close on Thanksgiving and Christmas, as they have done in the past in the interest of "public morals and decorum."

Although some politicians may be toasting Rutherford's bill, state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, a Republican, is hoping to pour cold water on it.

"To me, Election Day is important enough to not do it," he told The State. "It sets a good precedent and may even be a reminder to some folks that it's Election Day. It can't hurt."

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