Depending on whether S.C. residents like the outcome of Tuesday’s elections, they — for the first time — either can celebrate or mourn with a bottle of liquor.
Tuesday will be the first election in South Carolina when liquor stores can sell whiskey, vodka and Scotch while polls are open statewide. In July, South Carolina became the last state to lift its Election Day ban on liquor sales.
The ban was put in place because, at one point in U.S. history, it was common for politicians to buy liquor on Election Day to encourage people to vote for them or have the voting booth in a saloon, said Joann Zeise, a curator of history at the State Museum.
“Having a very conservative tradition and a large population who are adherent to the Baptist faith, it kind of makes sense that South Carolina would be one of the last states to hold on to an alcohol ban on Election Day,” Zeise said.
The ban also was an obstruction to liquor sellers.
Closing on Election Day meant suppliers had to deliver liquor on a different day, said Suzie Riga, vice president of Green’s Warehouse Discount Beverages.
Still, Riga, who has worked for the business for 37 years, does not expect a boost in business Tuesday because of the end of the election-day ban. “It will be just like a normal Tuesday, but at least we will be open,” she said.
Jay Hibbard of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said the ban cost the state just over $1 million in retail sales, which resulted in a $105,000 loss in sales tax revenues for each statewide election, including primaries and general election.
Those losses would occur if drinkers didn’t just stock up ahead of time.
Election officials predict lighter turnout at the polls Tuesday for the midterm election, but liquor stores also could face a light turnout.
Tuesdays are historically the slowest day of the week for liquor sales, said Don Podrebarac who owns Southern Spirits in Indian Land.
The busiest day is Saturday, followed by Friday, he said.
On previous election days, Podrebarac said customers would come to his store because he kept one side — that sold beer and wine — open. Customers did not even realize there was a ban on liquor sales, he said.
The Election Day sales came as part of a legislative deal that also includes a mandatory ban on selling liquor on Christmas Day, which was allowed previously unless banned by executive order from the governor. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has not issued an executive order to close liquor stores since taking office in 2011.
Harvey Teal, a retired educator, historian and author, said South Carolina has struggled for decades with controlling the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
“Over time, we have experimented with the state as a wholesaler and retailer of alcoholic beverages,” said Teal, who authored the book “The South Carolina Dispensary & Embossed S.C. Whiskey Bottles & Jugs, 1865-1915.”
From 1915-20, South Carolina tried limiting each household to a gallon of liquor a month, to be consumed for medicinal or religious purposes only, Teal said. “Local option as well as Prohibition were other attempts by the state to control consumption,” he said. “None have been very successful.”