“Good morning. Are you a registered voter in the city of Roanoke?” asks Stanley Allen.
He was out recently in the morning chill collecting signatures to get Roanoke the ability to vote on whether businesses there can sell alcohol. The people of Randolph County – who voted in 2008 to remain a dry county – lost their ability to vote on the matter altogether last year.
A bill allowing municipalities with a population of at least 1,000 to vote on the legal sale of alcohol passed during the 2009 session of the state Legislature. Roanoke, which the Census Bureau says has a population of 6,649, would have been allowed to hold a referendum on the sale of alcohol under those guidelines. But Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, amended the bill to exclude Clay and Randolph counties from the new law.
“He took everybody’s votes away,” Allen said. “[He] hung up on me when I called him and tried to talk about it.”
Efforts to reach Laird last week were unsuccessful. He has refused multiple interview requests from The Star.
In the first two days, Allen collected about 150 signatures. He’s planning to get 3,000, the same amount it took to set up a county-wide vote on the sale of alcohol several years ago. Once all the signatures are collected, Allen will send the petition to Laird to try and persuade him to amend the legislation. Then, Allen hopes the city will hold a special vote on the sale of alcohol.
Extra tax revenue could help city schools, the Police Department and downtown development, he said. But in a historically dry county at the heart of the Bible Belt, legalizing liquor sales may be a long shot.
The county-wide vote two years ago set a rift in Roanoke, a city with two churches just yards away from City Hall – which had a Nativity scene out front through Christmas.
People don’t have to worry about running into drunks downtown or intoxicated drivers the way it is now, said Kim Burks, owner of Klassy Kuts, the only salon on Main Street. Supporters of becoming a wet city say it’s the only way businesses will come back to downtown. It’s hard to parse the mixed feelings voiced in the city and predict how a vote would go, Burks said.
“I don’t perceive it as likely,” Burks said. “But the world’s a-changing … don’t know what to expect.”
No one, however, can vote on the matter until the law is amended.
“What are we supposed to gain from this taking our power away to vote?” Allen asked. “I don’t know.”