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Bangor Daily News : Contributors Column by Secretary of State Charles E. Summers, Jr.
September 5, 2011

The Truth About the Ballot Question Process

By Charles E. Summers Jr., Special to the BDN

I didn’t know what to expect when I saw in the Sept. 3, Bangor Daily News my picture with your editorial headlined, “Tell Voters the Truth.” Having now read the editorial my reactions are:

Why are BDN editors portraying the very orderly process of finalizing a citizen’s initiative question on slot machine facilities in the city of Biddeford and in Washington County for the November ballot portrayed as less than what it is: straightforward?

CasinoNo’s Dennis Bailey’s statements about the citizen’s initiative question, put forward by BDN editors as fact, are, in substance, incorrect.

I am happy to tell voters the truth by explaining the process, facts and laws missing from your editorial.

How is the wording of citizen’s initiative questions determined?

Before 2007, petitioners would submit a final form of proposed legislation to the secretary of state who, by law, had just 10 days to write the ballot question. The written question would then be listed on the signature petitions and the circulating for signatures would begin.

This process resulted in ballot questions hastily written to meet short statutory deadlines. It did not allow for public input into ballot questions, or any opportunity to consult with persons with expertise in the often complex subject matter of initiatives.

In 2007 Maine’s 123rd Legislature improved the process with Public Law 2007. Effective June 5, 2007, the process for initiative ballot questions is now provided for in Maine Statute Title 21-A § 905-A.

The current process allows petitions to be circulated before a final ballot question is drafted. Once enough signatures to allow a question on the ballot are certified, the secretary of state then writes a first draft of the proposed question based on information the secretary has in-hand. The public has 30 days to study and comment on the proposed question.

After the 30 days the secretary of state reviews all comments. When the public submits valid, accurate information for consideration an initiative question can be modified to ensure clarity. This amended version becomes the final question appearing on the election ballot.

This is the exact process used to determine the final wording for the citizen’s initiative on slot machine facilities on November’s ballot.

All comments submitted by the public are not accurate. For example, as cited in the BDN editorial, Dennis Bailey stated that it is an error to use the phrase “at a harness racing track,” saying the slot machine facility need only be within 25 miles of Scarborough Downs and does not have to be located at a harness racing track.

Mr. Bailey ignores provisions in existing law, Title 8, M.R.S.A. §1035, that requires a slot machine facility to be located within 200 feet of the oval of a racetrack. Based on this statute, I chose not to remove “at a harness racing track” from the ballot question.

Also, based on the Oxford County casino legislation, Bailey’s statement that the slot machine facility could be located in any community within a 25-mile radius of Scarborough Downs is also inaccurate. After the Oxford County casino is licensed and operating, no harness racing track can be relocated, or proposed to be relocated, closer to the Oxford County casino. This puts a limit on the number of communities within a 25 mile radius of Scarborough Downs eligible for the relocated track.

A quick check within a 25-mile radius of Scarborough Downs shows about 12 communities no closer to the Oxford casino than Scarborough. One of these communities is Biddeford.

The voters of any slot machine facility host community must first approve the operation of a slot machine facility by referendum vote, at a local election, before Dec. 31, 2013. To date, Biddeford is the only community that has given that local approval.

The citizen’s initiative question, as written, “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 and local programs?” is factual; has taken into account all valid, accurate public comments; and is clear in its intent based on current Maine Law.

And that is the “truth."