Randolph County residents will likely vote on alcohol sales in November

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 184 views 

The Randolph County County Clerk’s Office has certified enough signatures on a petition to allow for an alcohol sales vote in the county during the November election.

Randolph County Clerk Rhonda Blevins told Talk Business & Politics her office has validated 4,212 signatures that were submitted. Let Randolph County Vote, a grassroots organization formed to the question of alcohol sales on the ballot collected the signatures.

To meet the state mandated requirement that 38% of registered voters sign the petition, LRCV had to collect at least 3,800, organization Chairwoman Linda Bowlin told Talk Business & Politics. The certification was a major hurdle, she said. Legal challenges to the petition will be much more difficult now that it has been certified, and LRCV will turn its attention towards rallying voters to the polls, she added.

“We are thrilled and relieved,” she said. “We will be on the ballot in November, so we will change our focus to a get out the vote campaign.”

Lawsuits remain possible, but Blevins said she thinks her office followed state laws when examining all the signatures. Any litigation will have to be filed before Aug. 28, she said.

“I think we’ve done a good job on it,” she said.

Twice before attempts to allow a vote in the county were thwarted. In 2014, a county effort stalled when a statewide amendment concerning alcohol sales was already on the ballot. A different organization, Keep Revenue in Randolph County, spearheaded the effort in 2016, and collected about 6,000 signatures, but only 3,452 were validated by the Randolph County Clerk’s Office. A circuit court suit filed by proponents challenging the clerk’s finding was unsuccessful.

There were 10,056 registered voters in the county as of mid-March, meaning the group needed to collect 3,861 from registered voters this election cycle. Only 5,060 Randolph County voters cast ballots in 2016, which could mean alcohol sales have a good chance of being approved if it makes the ballot, Bowlin said.

Proponents of legalization efforts tout the county’s lost revenues as a motivation to drive alcohol sales in the county. A University of Arkansas survey estimated the county would have about $3.3 million in retail alcohol sales each year, and the county and the city of Pocahontas would collect about $107,000 a year in sales tax, combined. It would create at least 19 jobs, and have another $1.3 million in other economic impacts. Randolph County residents now drive to neighboring counties and Missouri to buy alcohol. Two bordering counties, Sharp and Greene, are wet.

If the measure is passed, beer and wine could be sold at grocery stores and convenience stores if the owners choose to do so. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division (ABC) allows for one liquor store per every 5,000 residents meaning the county, with fewer than 20,000 residents, would be allotted three package liquor store licenses, Bowlin said.

Bowlin understands the uphill struggle her organization faces. Sharp County voted to go wet in 2012 after environmentalist Ruth Reynolds fought for years to bring the issue to a vote. Some liquor outlets in neighboring counties and some local churches opposed the measure. Liquor store owners and religious organizations have fought for years to reduce access to alcohol in Randolph County, Bowlin contends.