There has been unusually high early voting in Henderson for an amendments-only election, Rusk County Elections Administrator Kathie Wittner said Wednesday.
As of noon Wednesday, a total of 2,269 early ballots had been cast, a fact Wittner attributes to the two alcohol referendums and school bond issues being voted on.
“This is a much larger turnout than normal for an election where there’s not a major office on the ballot, but I think these two issues are very important to the people of Henderson,” she said.
There are two proposals relating to alcohol on the ballot. One would allow the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption, which would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and wine, but would not permit packaged liquor sales.
The second would allow the sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders, which would permit restaurants to serve mixed drinks without club licenses.
Referendum supporters believe that loosening the alcohol laws will increase the city’s tax base and encourage more chain restaurants to open Henderson locations. Opponents believe it will increase instances of driving while intoxicated and other alcohol-related crimes.
Weldon Gray with the Henderson First Committee, which supports the propositions, said the city is getting all the problems of alcohol with none of the economic benefits.
“Alcohol is available in nearby towns, and Henderson residents who want to purchase it just drive to those locations,” Gray said. “Our city is not preventing people from consuming alcohol by refusing to sell it; it’s just ensuring that the tax benefits go to other localities, rather than our own town.”
Gray said his group has been encouraged by the number of people requesting signs in favor of the propositions during the past few weeks.
“We’re really encouraging everybody to get out and vote, regardless of whether they’re for or against this,” Gray said. “We want the outcome to truly reflect the will of the community.”
The Keep Henderson Dry Committee opposes the proposals. It is headed by the Rev. Bill Gardner of Southside Baptist Church.
Gardner has said his group believes the economic benefits of the proposals have been overstated and that incidents of driving while intoxicated — and perhaps other crimes, as well — would increase.
Early voting continues through Friday. Election day is Tuesday.