Kentucky: Bourbon and a Ballot?

Posted April 5, 2013 at 11:00am

When many Kentucky voters head to the polls for next year’s Senate primary and general elections, they’ll for the first time be able to make their next stop a local watering hole or liquor store.

On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Steven L. Beshear signed a package of liquor law changes that included a repeal of the antebellum-era prohibition of alcohol sales while polling places are open on Election Day in Kentucky.

“My administration, working cooperatively with the General Assembly, is taking an important step toward improving the business structure of alcohol sales and licensing in Kentucky. Not since the days of Prohibition has Kentucky undertaken such a comprehensive rewriting and modernization of our laws governing alcohol,” Beshear said in a statement.

The original law came about because, as the NPR affiliate in Louisville explained last month, bars themselves served as actual polling places, which created an environment ripe for corruption.

The idea behind the prohibition, thus, would keep politicians and their supporters from bribing voters with too much Kentucky bourbon. To be sure, securing votes with gifts remains illegal.

Supporters of repealing the law said that it was out-of-date and had a significant negative effect on the economy. That’s because liquor stores, bars, restaurants and even whiskey distilleries themselves would close their doors for the day, leaving lost revenue potential for both the businesses themselves and the commonwealth’s coffers.

South Carolina is the only state with a similar, albeit more narrow, prohibition remaining on the books. There’s no similar move afoot to repeal the restrictions in that state, according to the NPR report.