Registered voters in the southern Hatteras Island villages of Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras will go to their polling places on Tuesday, Dec. 7, to cast a ballot in a referendum on the sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants and some other venues.
If the measure passes, mixed drinks would be allowed only in those three villages.
Just as I was about to write an article on Wednesday that all had been pretty quiet on the upcoming vote, an oversized postcard arrived in my mailbox in Buxton. It was addressed to ?postal patron.?
On the front of the card was a collage of color photos of families on the beach, a person sipping a drink, and a wrecked car.
?VOTE NO? was the message.
On the back of the card were a half dozen or so reasons to vote ?no.?
However, nowhere on the postcard was there any information about what group or individuals, obviously opposed to mixed drinks, was sponsoring the message.
This is a violation of state election law, according to Melva Garrison, director of the Dare County Board of Elections.
The law, she says, states that groups who ?spend and receive any money? on campaigning must register with the board.
The state?s Campaign Reporting Act applies to not only candidates for public office and political parties and political action committees, but also all groups organized to support or oppose a referendum and ?every person or group participating in activities that support or oppose? a referendum.
The senders of the ?Vote No? postcard, Garrison says, are required to register with the Board of Elections with information about who they are.
Garrison said the Dare County Board of Elections has asked her to send a letter to the person who facilitated the postcard mailing ?informing him of the general statutes on campaigning.?
Bryan Gray, pastor of the Avon Worship Center, says he ?assisted? in getting the postcard printed and mailed but he says he did not finance it.
He declined to say exactly what group or individuals were responsible for the mailing, except that they represent ?a broad base of individuals in the community.?
?They had a desire to do this, and they did. And I think it?s awesome,? Gray said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
The last referendum for liquor by the drink was three years ago in November of 2007.
That referendum was for all of Hatteras Island, and it did not pass.
Churches and faith-based groups were active in that campaign with messages delivered in the churches and signs opposing mixed drinks lining Highway 12.
The drive to get mixed drinks on Hatteras was renewed this summer as supporters gathered the signatures to get it on the ballot, but only in the three southern villages where the voters were more inclined to approve it.
The 2007 referendum on mixed drinks was defeated by a decisive margin. Results were 855, or 56.55 percent, against and 657 or 43.45 in favor.
However, the referendum fared much better in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras than in the northern villages. It lost by only seven votes in Buxton, one vote in Frisco, and actually won by 33 votes in Hatteras.
By contrast, Avon voted down liquor by the drink by a margin of 53 votes, as did the tri-villages by a margin of 41 votes.
The referendum also tanked in absentee and early voting by a margin of 260 against and 133 for.
Dennis Robinson, president of the Hatteras Village Civic Association and marketing director at Midgett Realty, took a leading role in getting another referendum.
?I feel it would be a great amenity for the three villages for people to be able to have a mixed beverage in a restaurant,? Robinson said in an interview earlier this year.
He said, and other restaurants owners confirm, that many visitors continue to order mixed drinks at restaurants and are surprised to find they are not available.
And Robinson noted mixed drinks are available on the northern beaches and have been available to the south in Ocracoke since early 2007. This, he and other supporters say, would ?level the playing field? in the Hatteras villages.
The postcard urging islanders to ?vote no? is a largely emotional appeal.
The first reason to vote against mixed drinks listed on the card is that ?According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, communities with liquor by the drink have higher incidences of alcohol related auto accidents.?
However, according to public information officer Sgt. Jeff Gordon, the North Carolina Highway Patrol ?has done no research on that issue.?
Also, Hyde County Sheriff David Mason said that his office has not seen any increase in DWIs or alcohol-related auto accidents since mixed drinks became legal on Ocracoke more than three years ago.
?I don?t think there is anything to support those claims,? said Mason, who also noted that the office has had ?our fair share? of DWIs on Ocracoke, dating back to before mixed drinks were allowed. Part of that, he said, is that the island is a tourist destination and folks on vacation come to have a good time.
He noted that there is an ABC store on the island that sells liquor and that beer and wine have been legally sold at island stores and restaurants for some time.
The same is true on Hatteras. There is an ABC store and beer and wine are sold in island stores and at restaurants.
The other reasons for voting against mixed drinks that were listed on the postcard included:
- Increased availability = Increased consumption.
- Protect Hatteras Island family tourism.
- Hatteras Island has prospered without liquor by the drink.
- Liquor by the drink is greed, not need
- Protect our children from the environment that bars produce
- Why endorse a problem?
Given that alcoholic beverages are already sold here and that beer and wine are sold in restaurants, it?s hard to make a case that mixed drink sales would make a situation with alcohol abuse worse.
There are already bars here. The only difference is that they serve just beer and wine ? at least for now.
And, finally, Hatteras Island has suffered economically for the past few years ? from the general sorry state of the U.S. economy to the loss of business that many believe has been caused*- by the extensive closures of seashore beaches for the past three years.
Though there are reasons for folks to oppose the sale of alcohol in general, it is unfair to attribute the motivation of our neighbors who own restaurants to greed.
This has been a good year for cottage rentals, but the past few years have not been great, especially on Hatteras. Meals tax receipts countywide have not kept pace with occupancy taxes. Taxes on meals are up 1.45 percent this year through October ? a modest amount. But they were down over the previous year in 2008 and 2009.
It is only fair at this point in time that we allow liquor by the drink because some of our visitors expect it and because it might be an economic boost to some of our local restaurants. At the very least, the playing field should be level.
Not all restaurants will opt to sell liquor. Not all on Ocracoke sell mixed drinks.
Last night I ?googled? mixed drinks and elections and other combinations of words.
From the reports I read from media across North Carolina and the country, it?s easy to make a case for any side in this debate.
Mixed drink sales benefit some communities economically but not others.
In some communities, opponents try to make a case for increased DWIs or alcohol related auto accidents, but there is just as much evidence that it doesn?t much matter.
Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in many of our communities here on the Outer Banks.
But there is little, if any, evidence that the sale of mixed drinks versus only beer and wine would make the abuse more acute here.
Some in our communities oppose the sale and use of alcoholic beverages for reasons of religious faith, morality, or concerns about abuse problems.
And they have every right to be heard ? but not anonymously when they send out postcards to the public ? and to vote their consciences.
Alcoholic beverages can be purchased on Hatteras in all grocery and convenience stores, in the ABC store, and in restaurants under the current law.
There is scant evidence or reason to think that adding liquor by the drink to the mix will change the quality of life as we know it on the island.