By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – Canadian County Commissioners have been asked to call an election on proposed changes to the county’s liquor rules that restrict Sunday sales.
But commissioners are limited on when such an election can be called for voters to decide the issue. As it stands now, the countywide vote couldn’t be until March 2024.
Since 1985, it has been illegal for any business in Canadian County to sell liquor by the drink before 2 p.m. Sunday. Most counties across Oklahoma now allow sales starting at 10 a.m. Sunday, in accordance with state law.
There are two ways to eliminate this Sunday restriction – either by an initiative petition or a ballot measure. An initiative petition, circulated in 2020, failed to gain the required signatures.
Canadian County Commissioners would have to approve a resolution to set a countywide election for voters to consider a proposition lifting the before-2 p.m.-Sunday liquor sales prohibition.
“It appears to me that you can’t call for an election to change these laws as a ‘stand-alone’ question,” Canadian County Election Board Secretary Allen Arnold told commissioners Feb. 6.
Under state law, this measure may only be placed on a Canadian County ballot alongside:
- A special election held in Canadian County for another county proposition or state question.
- A special election held in Canadian County for a federal, state or county office.
- Any regularly scheduled federal, state or county election.
“As of right now, it looks like to me it would be March of 2024, the Presidential Preferential Primary,” Arnold shared. “Unless a vacancy comes up, or another state question or a county question.”
Any ballot resolution must be submitted to the Oklahoma State Election Board for approval at least 60 days before the election date.
It’s too late to place a county proposition on the March 7th statewide ballot when Oklahomans vote on State Question 820, which would legalize recreational marijuana.
“If a situation came up before March of ’24, we could include this question on that,” Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson said.
Collin Graham, director of membership for the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, shared his organization’s support to change the Sunday alcohol rule in Canadian County.
The association represents about 75% of Canadian County’s restaurants.
Graham was among more than a dozen people who spoke in favor of eliminating the current Sunday liquor sales restriction during Canadian County Commissioners’ Feb. 6th meeting (see related story).
Chairman Anderson, the District 2 county commissioner, pointed to the “diversity of support” this week among restaurant operators and county residents for the Sunday alcohol rule change.
“I’m very appreciative for the group that showed up, that’s taken time out of a busy start of a week at 9 o’clock Monday morning to be here and make your voices heard,” said Anderson, of Mustang. “I appreciate it. And it’s important.”
A LITTLE HISTORY …
Chairman Anderson shared some history about how Canadian County’s Sunday liquor rules were enacted.
Oklahoma residents in 1984 circulated a petition to place on a statewide ballot the “liquor-by-the-drink” statute. Passage of the state question changed Oklahoma’s state constitution, establishing
the Alcohol Beverage Law Enforcement (ABLE) Commission.
In 1985, that new law gave county commissioners across Oklahoma the power to place on a ballot even more proposed restrictions to alcohol sales.
Canadian County Commissioners, by resolution, called an election that prohibited sales of alcohol between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday; state law already prohibited sales before 10 a.m.
“What commissioners were doing, I believe, was extending that on through 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Anderson explained. “That vote passed, so Canadian County has lived under those laws since then.”
In 2018, Oklahoma laws changed significantly related to where and when alcohol could be sold.
After hearing input this week from local restaurant representatives, residents and community leaders, Anderson said his “pretty clear understanding” is that the group wants the three commissioners to call an election.
If approved, the proposal would change Sunday hours that liquor-by-the-drink may be sold in Canadian County to match state law.
New District 3 Commissioner Tracey Rider thanked everyone who voiced their position on this subject, saying it’s much bigger than a “four-hour window” for alcohol beverage sales.
“I listen to the voice of the people, and if it’s not illegal or immoral or unethical, my job is to work for the people,” said El Reno’s Rider, a former city council member. “Going forward, I would welcome any opposition if anyone has any opinion on the other side.”
New District 1 Commissioner Tom Manske also thanked everyone for sharing their opinions at Monday’s meeting.
“It’s a matter of community and what’s going to build our county,” said Manske, of Yukon. “We are the fastest-growing county in Oklahoma and one of the fastest-growing in the United States. With that comes a lot of development, a lot of opportunities and a lot of challenges.
“I know this is a very important issue that has a chance of having a significant impact in our community.”
NO ACTION … NOT YET AT LEAST
No action was taken after discussion at the Canadian County Commissioners’ weekly meeting Feb. 6.
All three commissioners realize the economic impact of the law restricting sales of liquor by the drink between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, the board chairman emphasized.
“I certainly recognize an inequity when county restrictions next to our county, in Oklahoma City, are different,” Anderson said. “We have some time to come up with the (ballot) language that we desire.”
County commissioners must decide if – and when – to place a countywide proposition on the ballot.
“We, as commissioners, can’t call this as a specific election by our interpretation,” Commissioner Manske noted. “We are visiting with our DA (District Attorney) to make sure the correct interpretation based on that statute.
“It’s not that we don’t want to progress or proceed. We want to do it within the state law and the statutes.”