According to Section 472 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, a local option referendum to change what alcohol sales a municipality allows or prohibits may be voted on during any election. Typically, a particular question may only be voted on once every four years, but there are several questions that may be voted upon on a more frequent basis.
A referendum can be broad – for example, allowing all forms of alcohol sales in a municipality – or it can be very narrow, for example, allowing only a specific golf course to sell alcohol.
Before a referendum may be placed on the ballot, a petition with a number of signatures equal to at least 25 percent of the highest vote cast for any office in that municipality in the preceding general election must be filed with the local board of elections.
In 2019, legislation modified referendum requirements for municipalities or part of a split municipality in Class 2A counties (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery). In those places, the number of signers to a petition required for a ballot question on any local option matter is the lesser of 25 percent of the highest votes cast in the last preceding general election or 500 voters.
The PLCB does not maintain statistics regarding the success/failure rate of local option referendums.
What happens to existing licenses when a wet municipality goes dry?
If a majority votes to prohibit the granting of retail liquor and/or retail dispenser licenses in their municipality, the PLCB cannot issue or renew those types of licenses when they expire. An existing license may be transferred to a wet municipality in the same county, or it could be put into safekeeping.
There is one exception to this – the so-called “50-year” or “1950” exception: In order to be eligible, a licensee must be located in a
second-class township in a
third-class county, have a license issued prior to 1950 and be licensed for at least 50 years.
What happens when a municipality goes wet?
Once it receives certified election results, the PLCB will accept liquor license applications for establishments in the newly wet municipality. However, residents in affected municipalities can appeal the vote, which might affect the issuing of licenses.
The PLCB cannot issue new retail liquor licenses or malt beverage distributor licenses if the county in which the newly wet municipality is, is at or over its quota. Licenses existing in other municipalities in the county would have to be transferred into the newly wet municipality. See The Retail Liquor License Quota for information about that process.
Generally speaking, retail liquor and malt beverage distributor licenses cannot be transferred across county lines.