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The Arkansas Wet/Dry Vote


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This upcoming election has several Arkansas counties deciding to be either wet or dry. On our ballots in the November elections is a choice to keep Benton County, where I live, dry or change it to wet. This either keeps the prohibition of 1920-1933 in effect (states were given this right after 1933) or allows alcoholic beverages to be sold in our county. Most counties in the country have gone wet, only about 10% are still dry.

I never really gave this matter much thought - probably like most Benton county residents. I enjoy a little wine with a meal now and then, and I love the taste of beer. I am leery of the bad health effects of alcohol, so when I buy beer, it's the alcohol-free type.

I have always thought it's silly to have one county allowed to sell booze while the adjacent one can't. So Joe six-pack has to drive an extra 5 miles to do whatever he does with his alcohol. But I have become aware of the fact that wet/dry isn't just about sin or about inconveniencing Joe six-pack. To see what "wet" does, one could take a look at a whole wet country. One of the wettest is Ireland. In fact, in a world ranking, Ireland is 3rd in per capita beer consumption. Irish drinking is legendary. There is a whole genre of jokes called "Irish drinking jokes". They go something like:

The French President is sitting in his office when his phone rings. "Hello, Mr. Sarkozy. This is Paddy down at the Harp Pub in County Clare, Ireland. I am ringing to inform you that we are declaring war on you." "Well. Paddy," Sarkozy replied, "How big is your army?" "Right now," says Paddy, "there is meself, me cousin Sean, me next door neighbor Seamus, and the entire darts team from the pub. That makes eight." Sarkozy paused. "I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 200,000 men waiting to move on my command." "Begoora!" says Paddy. "I'll have to ring you back." Paddy calls the next day. "Top o' the mornin', Mr. Sarkozy! I am sorry to inform you that we have to call off the war." "Sorry to hear that," says Sarkozy. "Why the change of heart?" "Well," says Paddy. "we had a long chat over a few pints of Guinness, and we decided there is no fookin' way we can feed 200,000 prisoners."

A domestic example:

An Irishman, who had too much to drink is driving home, weaving, and is stopped. "So," says the cop. "where have ya been?" "Why at the pub," says the driver. "Did you know," says the cop, "that a few intersections back, your wife fell out of the car?" "Oh, thank heavens," sighs the drunk. "I thought I'd gone deaf"

On a more serious note, Ireland has actually caused its share of war with the Irish Republican Army. And domestically, the drinking has prompted the formation of Alcohol Action Ireland, which bills itself as "the national charity for alcohol related issues". They tabulate the results of the legendary drinking in Ireland, and the stats they find are astonishing. Some examples from their website:

- Almost half of the perpetrators of homicide were intoxicated when the crime was committed

- Alcohol use is a factor in suicide. In 2006/2007, it was a factor in 41% of cases of deliberate self harm

- Alcohol is a factor in one in four traumatic brain injuries

- There was a five fold increase in licenses between 1990 and 2006. Alcohol in Ireland is 50% more

affordable than it was in 1996.

- Alcohol consumption in Ireland increased by 46% between 1987 and 2001

- Alcohol related offenses increased by 30% between 2003 and 2007

- There are almost twice as many deaths due to alcohol as due to all other drugs combined

- Alcohol related problems cost Ireland an estimated 3.7 billion euros in 2007: that's a cost of 3318 euros

on each person paying income tax in Ireland. That's about $4700 a year on each tax payer if this were

occurring in the US

And then there are some general global stats (also on Ireland's website) like the World Health Organization stating that alcohol is the world's leading risk factor for death among males aged 15-59. In the US, the Bureau of Justice estimates alcohol as a factor in between 19% and 37% of violent crimes. But isn't all this mayhem done by just a tiny few irresponsible drinkers? Well, consider that 1 in 5 people who take a first drink will become an alcoholic. That's a pretty good size army of mayhem creators in any responsibly drinking crowd.

Does all this translate into a county by county concern here in little old Benton County Arkansas? Well, if you look at it on a state by state level, you get a mixed picture. You can check out state rankings in about everything at sites like statemaster.com and see the dry states all over the map on issues of violent crime. There are only two states with most of their counties dry, Tennessee and Arkansas. These two show up both good and bad in the rankings. For example, did you know that in the category of % of high school students carrying a weapon on campus, Arkansas is #1? Tennessee isn't far behind at #8.

But state laws, cultures, and economies differ widely from state to state. If you look at the county by county stats compiled by the Arkansas Crime Information Center (their 2008 Uniform Crime Reports) for just the state, you see something very similar to the stats for Ireland:

- 107 % more murder in wet counties

- 299 % more robberies in wet counties

- 102 % more vandalism in wet counties

- 263 % more prositution in wet counties

- 180 % more aggravated assault in wet counties

- 123 % more motor vehicle theft in wet counties

Even Otis Campbell would not wish all this on Mayberry. In addition to living in an umpteen % sleazier county in general, your chances of having what they classify as a major crime committed against you specifically are about double if you live in a wet county. There also is the economic toll the Ireland stats bring out. Dealing with alcohol related problems is expensive in Arkansas too. The much touted increase in sales tax revenue from alcohol is much more than eaten up by an average of 60 % more law enforcement personnel per capita in wet counties among the many other tax dollar hogging things that problem drinking creates.. Because of absenteeism and other problems, companies are reluctant to locate in wet counties other things being equal. This helps translate into much healthier economic growth in dry counties and median income being 41% higher than in wet counties.

About the only crime stat that works in the wet boosters' favor is DUI. It's about the same in the Arkansas numbers between wet and dry, but in other states, DUI and drunk driving fatalities is actually higher in dry counties. Police and others point out that this is simply because all the problem drinkers living in dry counties must drive a lot in their dry county just to get over into the edge of their neighboring wet county to buy their alcohol. So you see the DUI issue typically brought out in wet/dry debates by the wet side. But their main crime argument is just saying that the dry county drunks have to drive further to get the alcohol that fuels all the rest of the crime stats, and they kill and maim more innocent dry county bystanders in the process. That's a pretty poor main argument.

Aside from all the psychological damage to lives, the religious issues, and the health issues, I think most Benton County residents, drinkers and nondrinkers alike, just want a nicer county to live in, and should consider these facts when they vote.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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And Madison County went wet as well. I think most people expected Benton County to go wet. I really wasn't sure about Madison County though. So now basically the entire NWA metro is now wet as far as I know. The closest dry county is Crawford County just south of Washington County.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi.  I discovered your well-crafted and highly intriguing post today while doing a google search. 


Our town is facing this question (again!) in an upcoming election.  I'd be fascinated to learn what changes you've seen since the vote you referenced, or if you happen to have access to any stats.    ???


Thanks for your time! 






On a more personal note, as a writer myself, I love to discover folks with amazing talent with the written word.  Your post was a highlight of my morning -- not because of your stand, but the skill with which you presented your information.  Fab! 



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