Muskogee County voters will have an opportunity on March 3 to decide whether liquor stores should be allowed to open for business on Sundays.
The proposition will be decided by voters who will be going to the polls on Super Tuesday to cast ballots for candidates competing in the Democratic and Republican presidential primary elections. The measure could attract more voters than a 2015 proposal asking voters to weigh in on Sunday sales of liquor by the drink at Muskogee County restaurants and bars.
Oklahoma Election Board records show 3,017 of the county's 37,000 registered voters turned out in August 2015, when they approved Sunday sales of liquor at restaurants and bars with 58% approval. By comparison, the 2016 presidential primaries attracted nearly 12,600 voters.
Muskogee County commissioners approved a resolution Monday authorizing the special election. Their decision comes a week after J.P. Hukill explained to them how new state laws allowing the sale of wine and strong beer by grocers and convenience stores disadvantage him and other liquor store owners.
"He is not asking anybody to take any kind of position on anything, but he was requesting that we at least put it on the ballot for consideration and let people decide what they want to do," District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said. "So I think at this point we wanted to at least take a vote on it."
District 2 Commissioner Stephen Wright said he is "for letting the people vote on" the proposition. But he, like other commissioners, remained mum about where he stands on the issue.
Muskogee County is one of only a handful that have opted to take up the measure since the passage in 2017 of Senate Bill 211, which prohibits Sunday sales at liquor stores unless approved by a majority of voters of a county. The law places the burden of putting the measure before voters on county commissioners, who may do so on their own motion or by petition that is supported by a number of registered voters that totals at least 15 percent of number voting the most recent general election.
Hukill, who owns USA Liquors on North York Street, told commissioners he was only seeking to "level the playing field" when it comes to doing business. He told the Muskogee Phoenix earlier the new law allowing grocers and convenience stores to sell strong beer and wine "has been tough for us."
“They can sell things on Sunday, but I can’t be open down at the liquor store,” Hukill said, noting the change would provide consumers with more choices. “This kind of helps level the playing field.”
Brian Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, estimates liquor store owners would experience a 5% boost in sales if they were allowed to open on Sundays.
Commissioners in Cleveland and Tulsa counties approved similar resolutions, also authorizing March 3 elections. Oklahoma County commissioners also were expected to consider the issue this week during their weekly meeting.