Early voting started Tuesday in Georgia but most election officials aren't predicting a heavy turnout. They expect relatively low vote totals because most Georgians have only local races or issues on the ballot. There is, however, the possibility of greater interest in some locales where voters have the chance to vote yea or nay between now and Nov. 8 on the issue of Sunday sales of beer and wine in retail outlets in their communities.
State legislators approved and Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation last spring that permits local governments to hold referendums on Sunday sales. More than a dozen counties and more than 100 municipalities -- including Fort Oglethorpe, Dalton and Lookout Mountain -- are holding such votes in the current election cycle. Clearly, the issue has stirred considerable interest. The lines of battle are old ones.
Those who oppose Sunday sales generally do so on religious, moral and public safety grounds. They believe that approval will contribute to higher rates of alcohol consumption, alcoholism and alcohol-related traffic deaths. Highly visible opposition to Sunday sales has emerged.
Those in favor say that Sunday sales likely will increase government revenues and that an additional sales day is unlikely to lead o social and moral decline. Most Georgians who want to drink on Sunday, they say, stock up on days when retail sales are legal, go to a bar or restaurant -- beer, wine and liquor already are sold there on Sunday in many places in the state -- or, where convenient, drive to a nearby state where such sales are allowed. There is considerable evidence to indicate that the latter occurs frequently in this area.
Georgia is one of only three states in the nation that currently bans Sunday retail alcohol sales. In Tennessee, liquor stores that sell wine and distilled spirits are closed on Sundays, but beer is available in most of the state's 95 counties. Many Georgians would like a similar arrangement, but their desires have been thwarted for years by legislators who have refused to give voters a chance to decide the issue. That's unfair.
Legislators should not be allowed to have the final say. Rather, Georgians should be allowed to vote their conscience on Sunday sales at the local level. Those opposed can vote nay. Those in favor can vote yea. That's the most equitable way to determine the will of the people.
For too long, the issue of Sunday alcohol sales has been a matter of legislative fiat, rather than a decision made by the people. The upcoming election affords Georgia voters the opportunity to be heard directly on the issue. Those with an interest -- pro or con -- in Sunday sales should go to the polls between now and Nov. 8. If they do not, they forfeit the right to complain about the result.