Originally created 11/07/96

The ballots are counted, but the question remains Tricky ballot language might have confused voters



AIKEN - The votes are in but do they mean what they say?

The day after voters in Aiken, Edgefield and nearly every county in South Carolina voted to keep restrictive store hours on Sunday, confusion surrounding the ballot question has some second guessing the results.

The question was on the ballot in 42 of 46 counties in the state. In all but Beaufort County, "yes" prevailed, meaning stores will continue to open at 1:30 p.m., rather than being allowed to open at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

On the ballot, the blue laws question came after nine constitutional amendments in which a "yes" vote meant changing the law.

But on the local question, changing the status quo required a "no" vote.

The state Merchants Association, which lost a bid in court before the election to have a plain-language explanation placed on the ballot, said it will now try to block implementation of the law.

"I think its unfortunate we've gone through this thing and still don't know what voters want," association director Jim Hatchell said.

The Merchants Association did not take a position on the referendum question, but believes having different laws in different counties is unfair, Mr. Hatchell said.

One theory about the vote was that people who didn't understand the Sunday sales issue just kept punching yes after the nine constitutional question.

The question read: "Shall the prohibition on Sunday work continue in this county subject to an employee's right to elect not to work on Sunday if the prohibition is not continued after certification of the result of this referendum to the Secretary of State?"

Eight of the nine constitutional amendments passed with 81 to 90 percent approval in Aiken County. The ninth, allowing the state's pension funds to branch into stocks, got 68 percent approval.

The blue laws question got 54 percent approval in Aiken County.

"So many of the rest were non-controversial it's hard to compare this one," political analyst Bob Botsch of University of South Carolina-Aiken said. "Once one votes yes they might just keep voting yes."

Dr. Botsch said the conservatism of Aiken County means voters here probably didn't want to scale back the blue laws.

"We're one of the areas that voted down video poker so it fits with the culture of the area," Dr. Botsch said.

Aiken County Republican Party chairman Andrew Marine said area businesses in the area never campaigned for a change in the blue laws, and so didn't get it.

"If there had been a concerted business effort, blue laws would've been repealed," Mr. Marine said.

Besides the court case state merchants say they'll bring, the confusion may also land the issue back in the state General Assembly, where a deadlock on the blue laws landed the question on local ballots in the first place.

"I'm sure we'll have to do something but I'm not sure what that will be," state Sen. Tommy Moore of Clearwater said.