Slots foes ask rewrite

Board of Elections declines bid for revised ballot question

August 28, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,

Slots opponents proposed alternative language yesterday for a voter referendum on November's ballot that would legalize slot machine casinos across the state.

Scott Arceneaux of Marylanders United to Stop Slots, a ballot committee, submitted the alternative wording in a letter to the State Board of Elections and asked that he be allowed to speak at a board meeting scheduled for today.

Arceneaux wants the ballot question to specify that slots revenues would go to "public education, the horse racing industry and lottery operations," as well as to casino operators. The current ballot language, as certified by Secretary of State John McDonough, specifies only that taxes collected from gambling operations would go "primarily" to education-related purposes.

The Elections Board has rejected previous requests from Arceneaux to throw out the existing ballot language and has declined to add the matter to its meeting agenda. "It's an issue over which we have no jurisdiction, and there's nothing we can do to change anything with respect to the language," said Chairman Robert L. Walker.

Under state law, the Elections Board is responsible for ensuring that ballots "present ... questions in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner." But Walker said the attorney general's office has advised him to maintain the board's historical practice of staying out of such disputes over wording. "The secretary of state provides us the language and we accept it," Walker said. "If someone doesn't like that they need to take it to some other forum. ..."

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a slots opponent allied with Arceneaux's group, also sent a letter yesterday to Walker. "It is your obligation to ensure that [voters] are presented with a fair and honest description of this important ballot issue," Franchot wrote.

Walker said he will not allow Arceneaux to address the board during today's meeting.

McDonough, who has also fallen under criticism as a former lobbyist for a Maryland racetrack, has said his ballot wording merely reflects the language contained in the proposed constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly in 2007.

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