By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina is poised to allow alcohol to be sold on statewide election days after state lawmakers voted to lift the country's last blanket ban on such sales at restaurants, stores and bars.
The state Senate voted 41-1 on Wednesday to repeal the ban, which critics considered an antiquated remnant of an era when saloons sometimes served as polling places. The ban, dating back to at least 1882, was intended to reduce corruption and bribery during elections, according to a state government researcher.
"We wanted to bring South Carolina step-by-step into the 21st century," said state Representative Bakari Sellers, a Democrat who has been working to repeal the Election Day alcohol ban for eight years.
The measure, which passed the state House in Columbia last month, faced stiff opposition from some legislators who objected on religious grounds, Sellers said. The state Senate tacked on an amendment making it illegal to use, purchase or sell powdered alcohol at any time.
"It's more of a southern Democratic philosophy, but I truly wish government would get out of our way," Sellers said. "If you don't want to drink on Election Day, you know what, you don't have to drink on Election Day."
Republican Governor Nikki Haley is expected to sign the law lifting the ban, but it will not take effect until after the state's primary elections on June 10.
South Carolina is the only remaining state to ban Election Day sales of alcohol outright, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Alaska and Massachusetts still have bans in place but allow local governments to opt out of them.
South Carolina still has "blue laws" on the books that prohibit sales of liquor on Sundays. The state also bans all alcohol sales on Christmas Day.
Gary Dow owns Charleston's historic Tavern liquor store, which during the early 20th century's era of Prohibition, was a fake barbershop used by rum runners for their operations, he said.
He recalled that police shut down his business after he opened it to customers on Election Day in 2004.
Once the ban is repealed, Dow said: "I'll probably open on Election Day, but I'm going to wait until I actually get something from the state that says I can do that."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and G Crosse)