May 20, 2019
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Tell Voters the Truth

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Charles Summers

Maine’s Secretary of State Charles E. Summers Jr. has corrected the wording of a question on the November election ballot. His action will let voters know better what they will be voting on. It also suggests that his department could improve its system of framing ballot questions.

The Legislature in June sent a bill to the voters that would expand slot-machine gambling in Maine. Secretary Summers in July released a draft of the ballot question that read: “Do you want to allow a slot machine facility at a harness racing track in Biddeford and at a harness racing track in Washington County?”

Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNO!, objected to that wording. In an Aug. 11 letter to Mr. Summers, he asked for a change, “to more accurately reflect the language of the actual proposal and to ensure that voters are not misled.” He quoted Danielle Fox, the legislative analyst for the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, as noting that the bill actually would permit a slots facility to be built anywhere within 25 miles of the Scarborough Downs race track, not “at a harness racing track,” as the question stated.

Mr. Bailey wrote: “It is extremely misleading to tell the voters that the law permits a slot machine facility to be built ‘at a harness racing track in Biddeford,’ when in fact it permits a slots facility to be built 25 miles away from an existing track [Scarborough Downs]. There is simply no requirement in the law that the slots facility must be located at a racetrack.”

He noted also that the legislation does not mention the city of Biddeford. He wrote that Biddeford residents had voted to host a slot facility and a developer had projected a move of the Scarborough Downs racetrack to Biddeford. But he pointed out that the law in question does not guarantee this.

In fact, he went on, the law would let any community within that 25-mile limit — including Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Kennebunk, Scarborough, Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham, Falmouth and Cumberland — hold a local referendum before Dec. 31, 2013, to host a slots facility without having to host a harness racing track.

Mr. Summers responded by changing the question to read, “Do you want to allow a slot machine facility at a harness racing track in Biddeford or another community within 25 miles of Scarborough Downs, subject to local approval, and at a harness racing track in Washington County, with part of the profits from these facilities going to support specific state an local programs?”

Mr. Bailey is reasonably satisfied, except for that last clause. He calculates that most of the profits wind up with the gambling and harness racing businesses. (Why the question still says the law links slots to harness racing is not clear.)

The voters, including those who don’t want slots in their towns, will now be better informed, thanks to Mr. Bailey.

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