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Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 12:23pm

Early Voting on Sunday Alcohol Sales

The early voting period started Tuesday in Georgia. More than 100 communities are voting on whether to allow retailers to sell alcohol on Sundays, in addition to selecting candidates. People on both sides of the issue are urging voters to go to the ballot box.

The initiative’s supporters say the number of cities voting on the issue indicate deep support across the state.

They range from Garden City near the coast to Gainesville in North Georgia, and include large and small cities.

Jamie Dempsey is with Georgians For Sunday Alcohol Sales. He started the group as a Facebook page. And he says the Internet remains a key tool.

“If you look at Facebook, there are actually, I think the number is 35 groups that have sprung up as a result of Georgians For Sunday Alcohol Sales," he said. "There’s one for Marietta, one for Savannah, one for Macon/Bibb County. Different areas around the state are rallying the troops.”

Dempsey says the measure may fail in some cities. That's partly, he says because in large cities like Atlanta, some residents see the vote as a done-deal. But he says that will increase get-out-the-vote efforts in the future.

Opposition groups say approving Sunday alcohol sales will increase the number of deaths from drunken driving.

Georgia Christian Coalition president Jerry Luquire says his group, based in Columbus, will send a mass email urging members to block the measure.

But he says many residents will probably vote yes.

“We hope to reach as many as 27,000 homes but we do not find any organized or even any disorganized opposition to it," he said. "I think I’m the only one standing up and saying, ‘Please vote no.’”

Luquire said supporters of the initiative have been at it for several years. In what was considered an historic vote, the state legislature passed a bill earlier this year authorizing cities and counties to hold referenda on whether retailers should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays. The bill had emerged early in the session with support, after former Governor Sonny Perdue vetoed a previous effort.

Then conservative groups, including the Christian Coalition, lobbied lawmakers to drop the measure, and that effectively stalled it for several weeks. But lobbyists for grocery stores worked hard to show there was broad support for the bill. They cited working parents who shop for food on Sunday and don't have time to make an extra stop to grab a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. After hours of tense debate in the state Senate, the measure passed.

Kathy Kusava is with the Georgia Food Industry Association, and was at the forefront in the lobbying efforts. She said her group is not conducting any campaigns for the measure. But she said she hopes voters will vote their conscience.

"For the grocery industry, this has always been an issue of local control," she said in an interview Tuesday.