The message is clear: The people of Ashland overwhelmingly support the sale of liquor by the drink on Sundays. Or at least those who live in the two downtown precincts in which the sale of alcohol has been legal since 1981 support Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages. Or at least the tiny percentage of eligible voters who took the time to go to the polls Tuesday want Sunday sales.
But the real winner of Tuesday’s vote were the vast majority who had so little interest in this issue that they didn’t bother to vote. The “I don’t care!” crowd clearly were the big winners Tuesday.
Officially, the results in the Moore and Central precincts and the two absentee ballots was 159 in favor of Sunday sales; 50 against Sunday sales; and 1,291 not voting.
In one sense, the lack of interest in this election is understandable.
If you are a non-drinker who dines at a restaurant with a liquor-by-the-drink license, you already know you can enjoy a good meal at these establishments on Sundays. The fact that a diner at a nearby table may be having a beer or glass of wine with their meal will have little or no impact on your dining experience. Even on the days and nights when they have always been able to serve drinks, the overconsumption of alcohol has seldom been a problem at these restaurants. For the most part, drinkers and non-drinkers have been able to dine side by side with no problems. We don’t expect that to change with Sunday sales.
Most residents of the two precincts apparently were not convinced enough that selling drinks on Sunday was going to have such a positive impact on the economy of Ashland that it was worth their time to bother voting to support the Sunday sales, or they were not so opposed to the possible negative impact of Sunday sales that they rushed to the polls.
Only time will tell what the impact of Tuesday’s vote will be, but we suspect it will not have the tremendous economic impact that the most vocal supporters think it will have, and it certainly will not have the dire consequences that opponents of Sunday sales predict. We suspect life in the two precincts and the rest of Ashland will pretty much go on just as it has in the 32 years since alcohol sales were approved in what were four precincts in 1981 but have since been reduced to two precincts because of population changes.
As for the vast majority of Ashland residents not being able to vote on Sunday alcohol sales, well, there is nothing new about that. Other than the 2009 vote in which Boyd County voters overwhelmingly voted to go “moist,” residents of the entire city have not cast ballots on alcohol sales since 1979, when they overwhelmingly voted to remain “dry.”
The failed 1979 vote on alcohol sales led the 1980 Kentucky General Assembly enacting a law that allowed residents of precincts deemed “economically depressed” to vote on the legal sale of alcohol. While the law was criticized as being “special legislation” that benefited only Ashland, it has led to precincts across the state approving alcohol sales.
Many Kentuckians do not like the precinct law, but it has been upheld by the courts and it has been the law in Kentucky for more than three decades. It is not about to change.
Would the outcome Tuesday had been different if all Ashland residents could have voted? Who knows? But the question is irrelevant because that was not an option. Just as they did 32 years ago, residents in downtown Ashland have decided how alcohol can be marketed in the two precincts. Some voted for Sunday sales, a few voted against it, but most did not even care enough to vote.