The Ley Seca (literally “Dry Law” in Spanish) refers to the banning of the sale of alcohol for at least 24 hours (and sometimes more) before elections and throughout the day on election day in Mexico and some other Latin American countries. The purpose of the law is to avoid public displays of intoxication, maintain public order, and to ensure that the elections are held with the maximum degree of decorum and level-headedness, allowing citizens to exercise their vote in a calm and orderly manner.
The law has a long tradition in Mexico: it first came into effect in 1915 and used to be enforced at a national level, but since 2007 it is left to the authorities of each state to determine whether or not they will apply it. Some states restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages for up to 72 hours, some for 48 or 24 hours, and some, mainly in areas where tourism is an important economic factor, do not apply the law at all.
Paragraph II, Article 286 of the Federal Code of Institutions and Electoral Procedures (Código Federal de Instituciones y Procedimientos Electorales) reads:
2. EL DIA DE LA ELECCION Y EL PRECEDENTE LAS AUTORIDADES COMPETENTES, DE ACUERDO A LA NORMATIVIDAD QUE EXISTA EN CADA ENTIDAD FEDERATIVA, PODRAN ESTABLECER MEDIDAS PARA LIMITAR EL HORARIO DE SERVICIO DE LOS ESTABLECIMIENTOS EN LOS QUE SE SIRVAN BEBIDAS EMBRIAGANTES.
Translation: The day of the election as well as the preceding day, in accordance with the regulations that exist in each federal agency, authorities may establish measures to limit the hours of service of establishments which serve alcoholic beverages.
The measure applies to wine and liquor stores as well as convenience stores, supermarkets, and grocery stores. It's also in effect at fairs, markets, bars, nightclubs, and often in restaurants (although, in some cases, restaurants are exempt with the condition that the alcohol is only served with food). Establishments caught breaking the law face hefty fines, and it may even be grounds for closure.
When Are the Elections?
In Mexico, general elections are held every six years, and local elections are held in different locations in different years. Elections are usually held on the first Sunday of June, but this can vary. Elections are usually held on a Sunday in Mexico so that the greatest number of people will show up to vote without the conflicts of work or school.
If you're in Mexico during an election period, remember that Mexico's Constitution prohibits foreigners from involvement in the country’s political affairs. Foreigners participating in political demonstrations and gatherings put themselves at risk of being detained and deported. It is therefore advised to avoid any type of demonstration or political gathering. This is true at any time, but these types of gatherings may be more prevalent on the dates around election time, and political tensions may make them more prone to become violent.
Mexican States and Ley Seca
States which enforce the dry law for the full 48 hours (from the first minute of the Saturday prior to the elections until the first moment of the Monday following the elections) include Campeche, Coahuila, Colima, Sonora, Guerrero, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Jalisco, Tamaulipas, and Mexico City.
In some states, such as Puebla, Quintana Roo, and Baja California Sur, the dry law is in effect for 24 hours only. In Quintana Roo (which includes the tourist destinations of Cancun and the Riviera Maya), the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on election day from midnight until midnight, except in hotels and tourist areas where alcohol may be served, provided it is accompanied by food. In Baja California Sur, the dry law is enforced on election day, with the exception of the hotels and beaches of the tourist areas of Los Cabos. In the state of Baja California, the law is not applied at all.
Anyone who may be concerned about being unable to purchase alcohol during the election weekend may wish to plan in advance and stock up on liquor during the week before election weekend.