Nearly four years ago less than one percent separated the “No’s” from the “Yes’s,” and history repeated itself Tuesday night as the latest wet/dry election was decided by 32 votes – in favor of “No.”
A brief smattering of applause broke out among the sparse crowd gathered at the McCreary County Courthouse Tuesday night when County Clerk Eric Haynes read the result of the final precinct report and overall tally as the “No” supporters celebrated their victory.
1,973 voters opposed the sale of alcohol in McCreary County, while 1,941 were in favor. A 32-vote spread separated the two options, less than one percent of total.
Voter turnout was less than what the County saw in 2012, the last time an alcohol referendum was put before the voters.
3,914 citizens cast ballots Tuesday, compared to 5,017 four years ago – 1103 voters fewer than in August 2,012.
There were some technical issues Tuesday concerning one voting machine malfunctioning, but it did not impact the voting in any way – but did add to the drama of the evening.
Haynes stated poll workers in the South Whitley precinct had noticed a discrepancy between the paper ballots issued, and the count on the E-Scan voting machine.
166 ballots had been issued, but the machine had only registered 153. It was assumed the machine may have jammed after two ballots were inserted at the same time, and had miscounted from that point on. Two of the ballots were voided, meaning there were 164 ballots to be counted.
Once alerted of the situation, Haynes ordered voting to halt on that machine. Voters were still able to cast their ballots on the E-Slate machine, and did so for the remainder of the voting. At no point was voting interrupted, and no one was not allowed to vote.
Haynes alerted media and representatives of the two opposing camps of the problem, and invited them to witness how the problem would be remedied. Tony Hansford, who initially turned in the petition, and Mark Sewell, who was one of the visible “No” supporters in the previous election were on hand to observe every action taken, and both agreed it was resolved in the proper way.
After obtaining a court order to allow him to open the voting machine, Haynes, the Board of Elections and a representative from Harp Enterprises did so to verify the votes were intact and unaltered.
The plan was to use a back-up machine and re-scan the votes, but the replacement unit did not operate either, so the ballots would remain sealed until a new solution could be found.
Harp would eventually send a replacement unit from Lexington.
When it arrived all of the votes, save the 164 locked in the voting machine, had been counted. “No” votes held a 38-vote lead, and anticipation was high waiting for the South Whitley votes to be ran through the new machine and the totals announced.
The votes were run through the new machine at the precinct, and the report printed, while the crowd waited in anticipation at the courthouse.
With the 38-vote margin, South Whitley would need at least 102 “Yes” votes from the 164 ballots for the measure to pass with a come-from-behind victory.
But, when Haynes read the totals – 85- “Yes” and 79-“No,” – gaining only 6 votes in favor, the matter was settled for good.
While 11 of 18 McCreary County precincts voted in favor of alcohol sales, seven voted against.
Two of those who voted “No” carried the largest vote differential in the election: Wolf Creek and East Pine Knot. Wolf Creek saw 159 votes cast with 31 “yes” and 128 “no” for a 97-vote spread in favor of keeping the County dry.
East Pine Knot, which saw the largest voter turnout with 570 voters, carried 341 “No” votes to 229 “Yes” for a 112-vote difference.
Other “No” precincts included Strunk, Revelo, Elm, Smithtown and Co Op.
On the wet side only Stearns and North Whitley saw a difference of over 50 votes: Stearns “Yes” voters outpaced “No’s” by 69 votes and North Whitley had a 78-vote margin in favor of “Yes.”
Three precincts that voted in favor of alcohol sales did so by the slimmest of margins: Bethel (2 votes), Wiborg (2) and Otter Creek (1).
Compared to 2012, the last county-wide alcohol referendum, only two precincts had overall different results than before. Wiborg and Otter Creek, which had voted “No” overall in 2012, voted “yes” in the latest election – but only by three votes total.
With the referendum failing to pass, it will be at least another three years before the issue can be brought up for a public vote again.
After hearing the final vote tally, “Yes” supporter Tony Hansford pledged that there would be another push to put the issue on the ballot in three years.
“We will just have to pay $25,000 (the estimated cost to the County to hold the election) every three years until it passes,” he said.
“Three years ago, when it didn’t pass the first time, they said we have ideas on how to change things for this County,” he added. “And we are still going backwards.”