By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will have four questions to answer, all dealing with alcohol, on a tribal-wide referendum scheduled for Thursday, April 12. The referendum mainly deals with allowing licensed and authorized restaurants and grocery stores to sell alcohol.
The referendum was originally passed and ratified in late 2011 with three questions. An amendment, passed last month, adds another question to the ballot.
Res. No. 76 (2012) was passed by Tribal Council on Feb. 2 and signed into law by Principal Chief Michell Hicks on Feb. 17.
As passed in the resolution, the question would have read, “Should each township on the Qualla Boundary have the local option to call for a specially held referendum in that township to vote out alcohol sales and distribution for their township with the following exceptions, that the on premises sale of malt beverages, unfortified wine and mixed beverages continue to be sold exclusively upon the property of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel and its successors, and on the premises of any other Tribally owned gaming facility?”
The question has been changed to delete the portion dealing with Harrah’s Cherokee.
Denise Ballard, EBCI Board of Elections chairperson, said that Harrah’s will be grandfathered in as it got the right to serve alcohol in a previous referendum. “That was a referendum vote and you can’t change a referendum vote for five years. It’s automatically excluded.”
She said all is a go for the referendum and all tribal members should have received their voting notice by now. The Board of Elections related they were ready to get the information out to the public in January but had to wait on the fourth question to be hammered out.
Absentee ballots are ready and absentee voters have until Wednesday, March 28 to request a ballot. The Board of Elections related that “all absentee ballots must be received in office by Monday, April 2” and they remind that absentee voters must meet one of the six criteria as set forth in regular elections.
Ballard also wanted to stress that the Board of Elections is there for anyone with questions on the voting process itself, but tribal members with inquiries about the referendum questions themselves should contact their Tribal Council Representative or the TABCC.
The Board of Elections has joined the TABCC at several community meetings already to help spread the word about the referendum. The Board will next attend a meeting in Big Cove on Thursday, March 1 at 5pm at the Nazarene Church followed by a meeting for Wolfetown and Painttown communities on Tuesday, March 13 at 6pm at the Wolfetown Gym.
“We’re eager to work with everybody and want to make this referendum as smooth as possible,” said Ballard.
Bob Blankenship, former Tribal ABC Commission chairman, related, “I have always believed that whether or not alcohol is sold in a Township should be left to the decision of the people who live in that community. In fact, when the issue was brought to Tribal Council by Noah Crowe from Snowbird, I suggested for Council to go ahead and put it on the upcoming referendum rather than have to wait for another opportunity for the people to decide.”
Blankenship feels alcohol sales will help the local economy. “I believe that for us to revive our tourism business, we have to have alcohol available in our restaurants. We have many restaurants closed now and are in a very depressed economy. We can see the very positive impact that alcohol has on the growth of our casino business. Tribal distribution has increased and so has per capita that, if not for alcohol, would have been down considerably in these bad economic times.”
He related that last year the casino sold $5 million in alcohol products which resulted in around $300 in additional per capita payments to EBCI tribal members. “I would guess that without alcohol our per capita would have been reduced greatly instead of increasing.”
Matthew Pegg, Cherokee Chamber of Commerce executive director, said, “By including the additional question on Cherokee’s alcohol referendum, it allows the voters more opportunity to support a vote that benefits the efforts to strengthen the marketability of Cherokee.”
Deidre Tranter, a member of Living Waters Lutheran Church, commented, “I am for it at businesses so there is better control. If I understood it right about the other things, like dry in one area and not in another, all those areas that are not dry will have the drinkers flocking to them. Keep it at the businesses where you can buy it by the glass with meals.”
Jill Crews, who goes to church with Tranter, is also in favor of the measures. “I think it would definitely be a plus from the restaurant’s standpoint. I think that if people are going to drink, they are going to do it and whether you’re driving to Swain County or buying it locally doesn’t really deter the choice. The revenue would help the local economy for sure.”
If you have questions for the EBCI Board of Elections, feel free to drop by their office located in the Ginger Lynn Welch Complex during normal business hours or call (828) 554-6361.