Light turnout expected for council races, wine referendum

Friday, May 1, 2015

By John I. Carney

Staff writer

Lewisburg voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, although if early voting has been any indication, not many voters will take the chance to vote in two city council races and the wine-in-supermarkets referendum.

"We've been extremely slow," Tristan Arnold, Marshall County administrator of elections, said on Wednesday, the next-to-last day of early voting.

Just after noon that day, her office showed a total of 162 early voters, including absentees. She said she was also expecting light turnout on Election Day.

Arnold said that when one compares the cost of this election to the number of people who actually participated, "it's outrageous," but she wouldn't have the final figures until after the vote.

In some counties, such as nearby Bedford County, cities and towns with tight budgets have shifted from having the traditional odd-numbered-year elections to holding their elections in conjunction with existing county or state elections in even-numbered years. The city election gets less attention under that system but becomes cheaper to hold.

In Ward 1, Steve Thomas is unopposed. In Ward 5, David Orr will face Nicholas Kyle Tipper for the right to fill the unexpired portion of Robin Minor's term. Orr curently holds the seat by appointment; he was named to it in Feburary by the City Council to serve until the election.

The city council elections will be open only to the voters living in the affected wards.

The wine-in-supermarkets referendum, meanwhile, will be city-wide.

A state law passed in 2014 allows municipalities, if they choose, to allow the sale of wine in supermarkets, beginning in 2016. The first step was for voters in each community to sign a petition drive asking for wine in supermarkets to appear on the ballot.

A total of 78 Tennessee cities voted on the issue last November, and all 78 which had it on the ballot approved it, making them the first wave of new adoptions. Now, Lewisburg residents will decide whether to follow those 78 and allow such sales as well. There were some other communities where petition drives failed. In Maury County, for example, petition drives in Spring Hill and Mt. Pleasant were successful, but one in Columbia failed.

Currently, wine can only be sold in liquor stores, and since Tennessee doesn't allow chains of liquor stores each store is independently-owned. The liquor industry and the supermarket industry battled for several years over the issue of allowing wine in supermarkets, with each side trying to convince state legislators. The General Assembly approved allowing supermarket wine sales, but built in the delay until 2016 to give the independent liquor stores a chance to prepare for competing with big supermarket chains. Liquor stores were also, as part of the bill, allowed to sell beer, as well as glassware, corkscrews and other beverage-related accessories, for the first time.

Proponents of wine in supermarkets note that it's allowed in 36 other states, and point out that wine is often used in cooking or paired with specific foods, so that shoppers might want to buy wine and food together. Opponents claimed that it would be sudden and unfair competition for independently owned liquor stores and that it would make it easier for underage persons to buy wine.

Lewisburg Mayor Jim Bingham said the city has taken no position on the referendum and that he's not sure how or if it would affect city tax revenues.

"We really haven't given it any thought," said Bingham.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday at five precinct locations: Lewisburg Recreation Center, West Hills Elementary School, Hardison School Office Annex, Lewisburg Gas Department, and First United Methodist Church's McKnight Center.