The Cherokee Reservation will remain dry, keeping in place the historic ban on alcohol sales, following Thursday’s election on the issue.
Enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians sent a strong message with about 60 percent voting “no” to alcohol sales. There were three separate questions on the ballot related to different types of beer, wine and liquor sales.
• 60 percent voted against an ABC store where the public could purchase liquor
• 61 percent voted against the sale of beer, wine or mixed drinks in restaurants.
• 66 percent voted against the sale of beer or wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort is the only establishment in Cherokee where alcohol is sold. Cherokee residents have to drive 20 minutes or more into Sylva or Bryson City to get a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine.
That could change later this year, however, as voters in Jackson County are having an alcohol election of their own in the May primary. If Jackson County voters approved countywide alcohol sales, it would become available literally a stone’s throw from the reservation.
Each community had the option of voting alcohol sales up or down. The flexibility meant that if the majority of voters approved alcohol sales on the reservation, any of the six communities in Cherokee could decide separately whether to keep alcohol out.
This two-part litmus test of sorts means one community couldn’t push through selling alcohol in their own neck of the woods if the idea of alcohol sales in general failed to garner the support of the majority.
However, the option is moot at this point since the reservation will remain dry.
Birdtown was the only community where a majority of voters approved any form of alcohol. They narrowly voted in favor of opening an ABC store but like other communities voted against alcohol sales in restaurants, gas stations or convenience stores.
Opponents of the referendum said that alcohol would only lead to more instances of drunken driving, alcoholism, child neglect and domestic violence. Proponents had said that alcohol sales were necessary for the tourism industry. Business owners have lost customers because they can’t obtain a glass of wine or beer in Cherokee, supporters of the referendum said.
In the election, 2,517 people cast a ballot. Voter turnout among local members of the tribe is difficult to determine, however. All enrolled members no matter where they live are eligible to vote in tribal elections but have to travel to Cherokee to cast a ballot. There are a total of 6,715 eligible voters in the tribe, making total voter turn-out around 30 percent — but the turnout was likely much higher than that among local enrolled members while enrolled members who live elsewhere in the state or country may have opted not to make the trip to Cherokee to vote, bringing down the total voter turn-out.
See The Smoky Mountain News print edition Wednesday for a full analysis and break down of results.