With heavy turnout, Allen County votes to go ‘wet’

Published 4:32 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2023

In most Kentucky counties, the turnout for the primary election hovered around 15% of registered voters.

Allen County blew that out of the water, with over a third of voters showing up to the polls.

In addition to the primary contests for governor and other constitutional officers, they had to decide whether the county would go “wet” and allow alcohol sales within its borders, or stay “dry,” as it has been since Prohibition.

The vote wasn’t as close as some expected as 57% of Allen Countians voted in favor of alcohol sales, and 43% voted against. Only two of 13 precincts voted against the ballot measure.

Brandon Bow, an evangelist who preaches in Allen County, said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the result, but was not expecting such a wide margin.

“People have got a right to their opinions. They’ve got a right to vote for what they want to vote,” he said. “… I mean, it bothered me, of course, it broke my heart as a Christian.”

Bow has seen the things alcohol can do — breaking apart families, killing kids, leading to drunk driving — and believes that the Bible charges Christians with being sober-minded.

Many people who voted no cited Proverbs 20:1 — “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: And whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” — in their pleas to voters on social media ahead of the vote.

But despite his strong religious beliefs, Bow knows he can’t change anyone else’s opinions, he said.

“There’s been a lot of division today, there’s been a lot of people talking down to one another,” Bow said. “… It didn’t go our way, but it is what it is. We’re just gonna have to go on with it and respect people no matter what they voted.”

Supporters of alcohol sales in Allen County have cited the potential economic benefit as their motivation for voting yes.

According to state law, localities that go “wet” can enact licensing and regulatory fees that businesses selling alcohol have to pay.

For example, cities and counties can levy up to a 5% regulatory license fee on businesses’ total revenue from alcoholic beverages, according to KRS 243.075.

The fee stays local and goes toward safety issues. Part of the fee goes to the local Alcohol Beverage Control commissioner who is in charge of managing licenses and enforcing regulations, and part goes to law enforcement, which may need additional resources to handle the impact of alcohol sales.

Potentially, the money Allen County is already spending on law enforcement could instead be partially subsidized by this regulatory fee, freeing up money in the county’s general fund for other local needs.

The next step for Allen County is implementation. Now, elected officials have to create regulations in accordance with Kentucky’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control and hire a local ABC commissioner.

Robert Herrington, who runs the Allen County Citizens for Economic Growth Facebook and helped lead the effort for a yes vote, said the vote is just the first step in actually using alcohol sales for good in the area.

“We’ve got to stay on all of our elected officials and people of influence in Allen County to make a difference, to get the funds that we have studied and we know that we can bring from this and use that money for good,” he said.

Herrington hopes the additional funds for law enforcement and freed up general funds can help address the drug epidemic in Allen County, and thinks that shared cause can bring the yes and no voters together.

“No matter which side of this you were on, we’re all still one community, and we have to come together and serve as one going forward to make it a better place to live,” he said.