In their first mail-in ballot special election, Jal voters have narrowly approved beer and wine sales in restaurants for on-premises consumption only.
Election officials in the Lea County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday counted 152 “yes” votes and 139 “no” votes. The tally is considered unofficial until the Lea County Commission canvasses the election on July 18.
The election with 52% in favor allows the city to issue beer and wine permits in the near future.
City Manager Matt White said there currently are only two restaurants in the city that likely will apply for a license, but there remain a series of legal hoops for the restaurateurs to jump through before they are allowed to serve alcohol with meals.
“This just allows them to apply for the permit,” White said. “Now, they’ve got a six- or eight-month period to get permits. They have to train their employees. The state has to come down and inspect their building. There’s a lot of stuff they have to go through to make that happen.”
By state law, a restaurant with a beer and wine license must make the majority of its sales in food, not alcohol.
Following a 2018 election law change, the County Clerk’s Office mailed out 1,230 ballots to all registered voters in Jal on June 11 for the special municipal election with the following language:
“Pursuant to Section 60-6A-4A of the Liquor Control Act, shall restaurant licenses for the sale of beer and wine for on premises consumption only be issued in the local option district consisting of the incorporated areas of the City of Jal?”
All ballots were to be returned to the county clerk’s office by 7 p.m. Tuesday to be counted. A total of 300 ballots were returned.
Election administrator Carrie Sandoval said 122 ballots were returned by the post office undeliverable. If a voter moved and is no longer at the address listed on his or her voter registration card, the ballot would have been undeliverable.
Eight ballots were deemed invalid and one ballot was returned with no vote marked, according to Sandoval. A ballot is invalid if the voter fails to sign the postage-paid return envelope.
White acknowledged the possibility of obtaining a license or permit to sell beer or wine with meals increases the chances of additional restaurants coming to town.
Jal’s was the second alcohol-related special election in Lea County this year. Voters in the Town of Tatum in April approved by a 65-50 vote Sunday sales of beer and wine in restaurants where sales already were allowed on the other days of the week.
Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at email@example.com.