Arkansas voted Tuesday against allowing alcohol sales statewide, preserving the status quo of “patchwork prohibition” that exists in half of the state’s counties.
With 96% of precincts reporting, 57% of voters said no to the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Amendment, which would’ve changed the constitution to allow for the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor, beer and wine across the state. Arkansas has one of the highest concentrations of dry counties left in the U.S. Thirty-seven are currently dry while 38 are wet.
The issue largely pitted churches, existing liquor stores in wet counties and rural, conservative residents against more liberal, populous counties and out-of-state retailers looking to get a foothold in previously dry regions. The ballot initiative appeared to have significant support as recently as last month. But support for the amendment eroded as its main opponents, led by Citizens for Local Rights, vastly outspent the initiative’s backers.
“We started late and didn’t have the resources to get our message out,” says David Couch, a lawyer and chair of Let Arkansas Decide, which led the campaign to legalize alcohol statewide.
Couch’s organization raised about $200,000 and was supported mainly by out-of-state convenience stores. Citizens for Local Rights raised $1.8 million from roughly 900 contributors, many of which were existing Arkansas liquor megastores, often near the border of a dry county.
Polling had shown growing opposition to the amendment in the weeks leading up to the vote. Citizens for Local Rights’ primary message was simple: Don’t let the liberal-leaning urban counties dictate to the smaller, conservative ones. Add in some help from local pastors and churches warning of legalizing a vice in heavily Christian areas, and it appears that message resonated with voters.
But Couch of Let Arkansas Decide says he’s not giving up. His next move is to try to get state legislators to reduce the threshold required to get the issue, known as the “local option,” on the ballot county by county. Signatures of 38% of registered voters within a county must be collected to trigger a vote.
“If that doesn’t work, we will refile the measure and start earlier,” Couch says. “And hopefully be better funded.”