Precinct 2 voters to decide to stay wet or dry
Donna Alford, assistant election administrator for Orange Co., looks at a blank petition form such as was used for the wet/dry election on alcohol sales in Precinct 2 for the November General Election. The petitions have been completed and turned into the election administration office.
RECORD PHOTO: David Ball
One election that may have sneaked upon the voting radar is the local option, or wet/dry election for alcohol sales for Precinct 2 in Orange County.
Billy Horton, president of Hard Count Inc. of Austin- the company managing the petition within Precinct 2, said the petitions were circulated for 60 days and they were turned in on July 8. Horton said the total number of signatures gathered were more than 4,000.
“This is the licensing process mandated by state law. These laws (regulating alcohol sales) have been in place since the 1800s. The local option has been available since Prohibition. Each local area gets to decide,” he said.
Thirty-five percent of people who voted in the last general election in which the governor was elected may sign the petition. The Legislature revised the law nine years ago in which 35 percent of registered voters could sign the petition.
“We’re required to get 1,718. We’re very confident we’ll get over 1,800 signatures. We’ve got 1,890 on one and 1,840 on the other,” Horton said. “Precinct 2 is damp. It confuses and frustrates people. One convenience store can sell none and one mile another can have it. It’s an uneven playing field based on boundaries.”
He further believes the local option election is an economic development issue to level the playing field. It’s also a convenience factor for residents. Whether or not a precinct is wet, or dry, or damp is determined by boundary lines. For example, the cities of Vidor and Orange held elections to make some areas wet. The wet/dry election is done by the county or by Justice of the Peace precincts. Other areas of the county that have been annexed may determine its status for alcohol sales. Likewise, unincorporated areas in the county are dry.
“The Shell station on the north side of Mauriceville can’t sell but the Market Basket can sell. Crawdad’s (across from Market Basket) can’t because the street is within the boundary line,” Horton said. “The (Orange County) Expo Center is dry. It limits the venues they can attract there. Bigger venues will have beer and wine there.”
Hard Count Inc. did the petition drive for Orange. They have also worked in Beaumont and areas around Houston such as Friendswood and its suburbs. Furthermore, the company has done 109 elections throughout Texas. Out of that 109, 105 of them made the ballot- a 94 percent winning percentage. Horton said his company hasn’t received much negative feedback in the communities.
“We educated them we they sign the petition. They’ve been pretty receptive,” he said.
He also thinks Orange County will receive economic benefit if the precinct becomes wet as Vidor and Orange is seeing a rise in sales tax revenue. Horton said some are opposed to alcohol sales due to religious beliefs or personal beliefs, but those who are reluctant to sign the petitions amount to less than five percent.
“The Texas Retailers Association said for every $1 in alcohol sales consumers spent $3 on other things in stores,” he said. “It means more property tax collected, it impacts communities, there will be more restaurants and commercial development.”
Owen Burton, Precicnt 2 county commissioner until November 2014, said his office hasn’t received any feedback about the local option election. He added he was curious about liability issues for the Orange County Expo Center if alcohol is served, while on the other hand, cities such as Lumberton and Vidor have initiated growth there since becoming wet.