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Atlanta, other cities vote on Sunday alcohol sales

ATLANTA -- Voters in nearly 100 Georgia cities weighed in Tuesday on whether their communities will lift a longstanding ban on Sunday alcohol sales.

Almost all of the state's 20 most populous towns had the issue on the ballot, including Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Warner Robins, Valdosta, Dunwoody, Gainesville and East Point. A dozen counties are also voting on Sunday sales, including Fulton, Cherokee, Chatham and Sumter. The issue is not on the ballot statewide.

Lisa Rice of Savannah left the polls Tuesday saying she voted to lift the ban on Sunday alcohol sales because "it's time to step into the 21st century."

"Good grief, we're a tourist town," said Rice, 53, who runs a house-cleaning business. "People come to visit me and they bring their own so they can have a glass of wine on Sunday. Let people go to (the grocery store) on a Sunday and buy a six-pack of beer before watching the football game."

Georgia is one of only three states that still prohibit Sunday alcohol sales at grocery and liquor stores, and the only remaining Southern state to do so.

The topic has been hotly debated for years at the Legislature, with religious groups like the Georgia Christian Coalition and the Georgia Baptist Convention blocking a Sunday sales law. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue also threatened to veto any bill that passed during his 8-year tenure.

This year, the conversation around Sunday sales shifted from morality to local control, allowing lawmakers to pass the controversy on to municipal governments, which could decide for themselves whether to allow their citizens to vote on the issue. Gov. Nathan Deal signaled he would support letting communities make up their own minds about Sunday sales, and signed the legislation into law earlier this year.

Many newcomers to fast-growing Georgia have been surprised to learn of the ban on Sunday alcohol sales, which some view as an inconvenient relic.

Mike Richardson of Atlanta cast his ballot with his 5-year-old son, Jack, in tow. Like many other transplants, the Virginia native discovered the rule the hard way when he moved here 18 years ago and went to the grocery store on the Sabbath.

"I literally walked into the store and tried to buy alcohol and they said no," Richardson recalled. "I had no idea that was an issue. I was kind of shocked that it still existed. I think it's an infringement on our rights not to be able to have it on Sundays when we can have it every other day of the week."

The Georgia Secretary of State's office said it wasn't aware of any problems at the polls Tuesday. State officials said voter turnout is typically low in non-presidential election years.

Because Atlanta already had a special election scheduled, the city council last month decided to add the issue to the ballot. Many local governments declined to take up the issue at extra expense if they had no other election contests.

Should the measure pass, the effective dates will vary by municipality -- meaning that voters would not necessarily be able to buy alcohol at a grocery or liquor store on the first Sunday after the measure passes in their community.

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Associated Press writer Russ Bynum contributed to this report from Savannah.

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