Bars Used to Be Closed on Election Day in Pennsylvania

For almost 100 years, Pennsylvanians could not legally buy a drink in the state on election day. Now we can. I'll drink to that!


It’s election day! You should be elated to have the freedom to vote today — and then to head to the bars afterward. It’s not a right you’ve always had in Pennsylvania.

All bars were closed in Pennsylvania on election day until 1973. That’s when an exemption was granted to bars that make 30 percent of their revenues from food and nonalcoholic beverages. Bars below that percentage had to close on voting days until 2001, when the state’s liquor laws were changed.

It wasn’t just Pennsylvania. A report by the federal government’s 1971 National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse said most states prohibited alcohol sales on election day, at least in part. A 1906 report of the Pennsylvania Bar Association said retail and wholesale liquor sellers must be closed between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. on election day in the state.

The laws were meant to combat the American tradition of winning votes by trading booze for them. George Washington won votes by “swilling the planters with bumbo” — a type of rum. Other Founding Fathers did the same.

The law in Pennsylvania dated to 1875. And you thought the commonwealth’s liquor laws are tough now: For almost 100 years, Pennsylvanians could not legally buy a drink on election day in the state.

The last state that prohibited alcohol sales on election day, South Carolina, repealed the ban this spring. Alaska and Massachusetts have local options that allow municipalities to selectively close bars on election day.

Though liquor sales are allowed in every state on election day, trading alcohol for votes remains illegal. Last year, former Arkansas State Rep. Hudson Hallum was sentenced to a year home detention and three years probation for trading chicken dinners and vodka for absentee votes.

Not everyone was excited by the news 13 years ago that allowed all bars to be open on election day in Pennsylvania. “I am highly disappointed in the news,” Michele Recupidl, general manager of Locust Rendezvous, told the AP when the law changed in 2001. “People come here two weeks before Nov. 6 asking if they can get a drink here on Election Day.”

[via Melissa Daniels]

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