Reason for the law is unclear
South Carolinians can pick politicians and decide a slew of state issues Tuesday, but they can't elect to buy a lottery ticket or a bottle of booze.
State law prohibits the sale of both on statewide election days.
While a ban on selling liquor isn't unique to South Carolina, it is very likely that shutting down the state lottery is. And the reason lottery tickets are forbidden isn't nearly as clear as a banned bottle of vodka.
"I think we're the only state in the country that has this prohibition," said Ernie Passailaigue, executive director of the South Carolina Education Lottery.
The intent could have been symbolic. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, advocated creating a lottery to fund education during the 1998 election, when he upset incumbent Gov. David Beasley. Two years later, voters approved the lottery, sending the matter to the Republican-dominated state legislature to be sorted out.
"I've been told it was, quite frankly, designed to address concerns that the lottery would turn into a political advantage for Governor Hodges (in 2002)," Passailaigue said. "They didn't want the lottery to be used as a political advantage for any candidate."
With the absence of state legislative records indicating the rationale behind laws, the exact reason for the ban is hard to determine without asking the legislators who crafted it. But even those involved don't seem to remember.
"I'll be honest with you, I don't really think there's any good reason that we don't sell lottery tickets on election days," said state Sen. Scott Richardson, R-Hilton Head Island, who sits on the education committee. "We sell them every other day," including on the holiest of holidays, such as Easter and Christmas.
Because lottery tickets also can't be sold on primary election days, the South Carolina Education Lottery estimates it will forfeit $5 million in ticket sales this year. Depending on prize payouts, up to $2 million of that money would have gone to fund education initiatives.
There have been efforts to lift the ban. In 2005, a bill was introduced in the state Senate, but it stalled before ever coming to a vote.
"We've given the legislature our estimate of the fiscal impact of not selling tickets and it's up to them to act on it," Passailaigue said. "We don't lobby to change the laws."
And so, when the clock strikes midnight tonight, the lottery will shut down its computer gaming system, preventing the sale of electronic tickets or redemption of prizes. Instant tickets also won't be sold, although it's up to the individual retailer to enforce the state law.
The lottery will hold two drawings Tuesday, but buying the tickets will require some foresight.
South Carolina may be the lone state banning lottery tickets, but it's also in the minority when it comes to outlawing the retail sale of liquor on Election Day.
Nine states have some sort of alcohol restriction during elections, while 12 others allow local governments to decide, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.
The issue is on the ballot in Oklahoma, where voters could decide to repeal that state's long-standing prohibition.
Compared with some of the others, South Carolina's ban appears watered down. Only package stores are required to close. Beer and wine sales aren't affected and the hard stuff still can be poured at bars and restaurants.
The law dates back to at least 1945 and probably was on the books much earlier, said Mark Plowden, of the S.C. Attorney General's Office.
"I would suspect it goes back to the days when a vote could be bought for a drink," said Danny Brazell, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Revenue.
Alcohol bans also were thought to keep people from drunkenly heading to the polls, where an intoxicated vote counts just as much as a sober one.