In December, Marshall County resident Larry Bodine presented 3,200 petitions to the county’s commissioners, calling for a countywide wet/dry vote in the 2020 General Election.
After County Attorney Clint Maze researched the issue, his discoveries led to one conclusion at the commission’s latest work session: a referendum is unlikely for the current election cycle.
Alabama law states, “upon 25% of the number of voters in the voting in the last preceding general election being filed with the probate judge of the county, the probate judge must call an election to determine the sentiment of the people as to whether or not alcoholic beverages can be sold.” Maze said just more than 27,400 people voted in the last general election, so the number of petitions required is currently 6,867. Bodine’s count of 3,200 was less than half the required total.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, in an effort to get the alcohol sales issue on the ballot, Maze said the commission had approved a resolution asking the local delegation to sponsor a local bill that would allow the unincorporated areas of Marshall County to have a wet/dry vote.
However, the Alabama Legislative Service, what Maze described as “an arm of the Legislature to vet the local bill,” found a problem. County residents living within municipalities are required the right to vote as well.
“So, just by way of history, the commission approved a resolution based on a local act that was done in Chilton County [in the 90s] to allow the equal and unincorporated portion of the county to do that,” he said. “Now at the time, Chilton County was completely dry and this was their first foray. Marshall County is unique in several regards because we have four wet municipalities inside the county, and that creates an incomplete jigsaw puzzle of portions of the county that are dry with the municipalities that are wet.
“So when that resolution was passed, the local delegation sent that to the Alabama Legislative Service … and they came back and said under the Alabama Constitutional Amendment Section 105, which says no special private or local law shall be enacted which is provided for by a general law. So … because there is a general law, there can’t be a local act that overrides a general law.”
Maze said the recommended path for the Marshall County Commission to put a wet/dry referendum on the ballot was to introduce a local constitutional amendment to allow a countywide vote, not limiting the vote to unincorporated areas of the county as proposed. But the reason voters will likely not see the issue on the 2020 General Election ballot is due to timing. The Alabama Legislature has already adjourned its annual session. In order to have a vote this way, it must be approved by the Legislature.
The only way a countywide wet/dry referendum could possibly be held this year is if the 6,867 petitions needed are acquired.
“If the 25% is secured … then the Legislature cannot stop it and the commission cannot stop it,” Maze said. “It will go on a ballot, and it will be voted on by the people within 82 days and not more than 97 days. It’s going to be a special-called election that [the commission] will have to — through the general fund — pay for, but you cannot stop it.”
District 2 Commissioner Ronny Shumate expressed his opinion on the potential of countywide alcohol sales.
“Personally, at an economic [standpoint], whether you drink or not, I think it would be better for the community if the whole county would go wet.”
The former Arab councilman said his city’s DUI rates and domestic violence rates fell after it voted to go wet in 2008. Shumate also believed the revenue needed to stay within the county.
No other commissioner voiced his thoughts on the issue.