Voters in Benton County decided to join 35 other Arkansas counties where package alcohol is sold, according to the unofficial final counted votes by the Benton County Election Commission early Wednesday morning (Nov. 7)
Wet supporters tallied 42,978 votes (66%), while the opposition favoring the status quo had 22,239 (34%) of the votes cast.
Spending by the opponents was equally lopsided as Keep Dollars in Benton County spent $660,657 toward the effort, while the opposition group mustered just $1,265 according to records on file with Arkansas Ethics Commission.
Keep Dollars in Benton County was spearheaded by Tom and Steuart Walton – grandsons to Wal-Mart founders Helen and Sam Walton – who together donated more than a half million dollars toward this issue. Much of the money was spent to obtain more than 43,000 necessary signatures to get the issue before the voters.
Citizens United to Preserve Benton County formed in late September and managed to garner support from a few local churches, according to spokesman John Gore.
A study conducted by the University of Arkansas estimates retail alcohol sales would bring $33 million into the county each year – in both revenue and jobs created. Some $14 million is an estimated one-time economic impact and the possibility of up to 140 jobs were noted in the study.
There is room for up to 55 liquor stores in the county, according the Alcohol Beverage Control division.
Marshall Ney, spokesman for Keep Dollars in Benton County, said the petition effort was essentially a trial run for the election. He said the Walton grandsons were able to remove the barrier of getting the issue before the voters, who spoke out loud and clear on what they want.
“The overwhelming cost and task of gathering more than 40,000 signatures was a barrier, or it would have likely been on the ballot before now,” Ney said.
Citizens in Madison and Sharp counties also voted them “wet” on Tuesday.