Fear and Loathing on Election Day

By Silas Montgomery

As much as Kentucky loves its Bourbon, alcohol sales were prohibited on election day until 2016! Before KRS §244.290 took effect on July 15, 2016 Kentucky had a statewide ban on alcohol sales while polls were open. Until recently, the only other states still clinging to similarly antiquated prohibition-esque laws were Indiana and South Carolina.

This dated policy banning alcohol sales stemmed largely from politicians using alcoholic incentives to buy votes on election day years ago when it was common for saloons to double as polling stations. This morally ambiguous policy was obviously problematic but the main take away was that opportunistic politicians would offer booze in exchange for ballots on election day at the poll/bar. “[O]ne way to do that was to keep the voters liquored up and basically seduce them or bribe them with drinks, free drinks, and it could actually skew the results of the election.” Jim Holmberg of the Filson Historical Society of Louisville told WFPL.

Apparently, buying votes with alcohol is a bonified American tradition dating all the way back to our very first president George Washington. As Daniel Okrent wrote in his book “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition:

"When twenty-four-year-old George Washington first ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he attributed his defeat to his failure to provide  enough alcohol for the voters. When he tried again two years later, Washington floated into office partly on the 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer his election agent handed out—roughly half a gallon for every vote he received."

KRS 244.290 allows “[a] licensee authorized to sell distilled spirits or wine at retail shall be permitted to sell and deliver distill spirits and wine during the hours the polls are open on any primary, or regular, local option, or special election day unless it is located where the legislative body…prohibits the sale of distilled spirits and wine.” Put plainly, KRS § 244.290 allows for authorized alcohol distributors to sell alcohol on election day unless the county is dry and wouldn’t be allowed to do so otherwise.

Indiana repealed its ban on election day alcohol sales back in 2012, Kentucky’s bill was passed back in 2013 but as mentioned above took effect in 2016, and South Carolina followed suit in 2014 repealing the last remaining ban on election day alcohol sales nationwide. 

For better or for worse, bottoms up!