By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
ROBBINS — Anyone who ever wondered if his vote really mattered should take a look at last week’s alcohol referendum in this tightly-knit Moore County town where residents turned down the sale of beer and mixed drinks and approved the sale of wine, by a margin of no more than four votes in any contest.
“Robbins’ alcohol election demonstrates what we are seeing across the state. These elections are either succeeding or failing by a handful of votes,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
“There was a day, 25 or 30 years ago, when communities understood clearly the social threat of making alcohol more accessible. If an alcohol referendum was placed on the ballot, nearly every mainline church in that county, town or municipality would ban together to defeat it. But today only a handful of churches are willing to do battle.”
The Rev. Kenneth McNeill’s First Baptist Church of Robbins was among the handful that rallied against the referendum, setting up weekly meetings of Keep Robbins Safe and encouraging opponents of alcohol to register and vote.
Final tallies: 117 opposed to 113 for malt beverages; 117 opposed to 114 for mixed drinks; and 114 opposed to 116 for unfortified wine; were announced Tuesday after five provisional ballots casts in the Sept. 16 vote were reviewed.
While alcohol opponents were disappointed that wine sales were approved, they were glad to keep out beer and liquor by the drink. Robbins’ 452 voters didn’t have to decide about an ABC store since state law requires a municipality to have at least 500 registered voters to have that on the ballot. Just over half of the town’s voters showed up at the polls.
McNeill said he believes many of those did so because of the legwork of dedicated ladies in the Keep Robbins Safe group.
“It was difficult to mobilize a large number of people in a short time,” said McNeill of the eight weeks or so between the town’s Board of Commissioners’ unanimous decision to hold the referendum and the mid-September vote. “The senior adult ladies carried the bulk of the work, walking door to door and in their kind, compassionate way telling folks of their concern about the referendum and asking them to please consider voting against it.”
The Rev. Wilson Harris, pastor of First Wesleyan Church of Robbins, said he felt many of the most ardent supporters of alcohol sales were from outside the Robbins city limits.
“I kept wondering if many of these people were not misinformed, led to believe that to vote in favor of alcohol was critical for the economy and that unless you vote for it you should expect higher taxes,” he said.
Proponents of alcohol, a group called FOR (Future of Robbins), began erecting promotional signs within 48 hours of the announced referendum, leaving opponents scrambling.
“We were immediately in a deficit,” said McNeill. But a crash course in election rules from the Board of Elections and a meeting with the Rev. Johnny Henderson of Asheboro, a longtime alcohol opponent, helped him and the rest of the Keep Robbins Safe committee decide quickly where to put their resources.
Working with a budget of less than $1,000, the multi-denominational group used phone polling, a billboard, letters to the editor, post cards and lots of prayer. McNeill, Harris and other pastors preached sermons against alcohol. But McNeill stressed his belief that God used the senior adult ladies in the group to make most difference.
“One lady found about 10 people in one afternoon that were not registered,” he said. “Those eye-to-eye relational conversations are what really carried it.”
Harris expects alcohol forces to push for another vote in three years, the next time allowed by law. Meanwhile, businesses may began applying for permits to sale unfortified wine.
“If Robbins was to lose in any way, what happened was the best scenario,” said Rev. Creech. “Wine doesn’t typically produce the same kind of alcohol related problems for a community that malt beverages and liquor do.
“Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage of today and it produces the worst forms of hazardous drinking. But make no mistake about it, any scenario making alcohol more accessible always increases consumption levels and is a negative.”