By JOSH NEWTON
Oklahoma election laws prohibiting the “taking” of liquors within a half mile of a precinct on election day appear to be too “vague” to interpret, local officials said last week.
Questions about the law surfaced when the Cherokee County Election Board sent out a reminder on various state election laws. According to Title 26 Section 7-110 of state law, “No person shall take intoxicating liquors of any kind or quality to within one-half mile of any polling place on an election day.”
Tahlequah Main Street Association was preparing to host its Wines of Winter event in downtown Tahlequah on Tuesday, Feb. 11 – the same day as the annual school election. Main Street Director Drew Haley, like many others, hadn’t heard of the statute, and said the wording seemed to raise more questions than answers.
“What does ‘taking’ mean? That’s kind of vague,” Haley said.
Wines of Winter was later rescheduled to Thursday, Feb. 13, because of anticipated weather conditions. But questions still lingered about whether the decades-old law could affect local bars, restaurants or homes – even future events – near a polling place.
“I don’t know how to interpret the law,” District 27 District Attorney Brian Kuester said Friday.
Kuester tried locating cases where the law was used in prosecution, but was unable to uncover any. Online research unveils little commentary on how others, over the years, have interpreted the law – or if they ever had to.
“I’m not aware of it ever going before a district attorney, and there are no opinions from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals,” Kuester said.
The law was placed on state books in 1975, according to Oklahoma statutes. In 1982, residents in Oklahoma County apparently made a flood of phone calls to the Oklahoma County Election Board, questioning whether polling places could be located near liquor stores.
Then-Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Donald Easter, acting as the legal adviser to the election board, claimed the presence of liquor within half a mile to a precinct would not threaten an election’s results, according to an archived story on The Oklahoman’s website.
Easter, who said violation of the law could be a misdemeanor, told The Oklahoman back in ‘82 the law was not meant to place more restraints on elections, in his opinion.
“The law is a prohibition of the general public doing something that the Legislature thinks is improper, and in my estimation, this is not the basis for an election contest,” Easter is quoted in the newspaper as saying.
At the time, Easter suggested an election board official ask for “voluntary cooperation” by businesses and distributors.
Under Oklahoma law, it is also illegal to be within 300 feet of a polling place while drunk on election day.