Dorchester voters may get slots issue

Senate decision expected on allowing straw ballot

General Assembly

March 25, 2004|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The on-again, off-again debate over permitting slot machines in Cambridge might be decided by Dorchester County voters in the November election.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore county, secured a crucial victory yesterday when the Senate approved an amendment permitting the November presidential ballot to ask Dorchester voters whether they support slot machines there.

A final vote on the amended bill -- which includes the Dorchester straw ballot and a straw ballot question on a separate Talbot County issue -- is expected in the Senate today or tomorrow.

Colburn's push for a straw ballot follows a public hearing he held last week in Cambridge seeking residents' thoughts on slots.

As the Senate was preparing to pass a slots measure last month, Dorchester was added to the bill at the last minute as a jurisdiction eligible for slots -- until Colburn fought to remove it. Colburn said he later received many angry phone calls and e-mails from residents who believed slots would help the county.

Colburn said the hearing produced mixed reactions, and he introduced a separate bill last week seeking the straw ballot.

But a Senate committee unexpectedly approved a measure out of Talbot County, also in Colburn's district. That bill seeks a straw poll among Talbot voters to determine their interest in changing the selection process for county school board members -- giving Colburn the opening to add the Dorchester slots question.

The Senate defeated an amendment from Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, that sought to add a straw ballot on slots for Prince George's voters. The Senate's slots bill includes Prince George's as a county eligible for slots.

The measure's prospects in the House are uncertain because the General Assembly rarely approves straw ballot election measures.

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