I’ve followed the local casino ballot issue keenly over the last few months. Obviously I remain deeply opposed to the casino expansion based upon the council’s failure to obtain a host agreement with the casino which guarantees revenue to the city - along with a few other reasons which will be explored between now and Election Day.
But that said, I wanted to post some comments on the recent decertification vote of the local casino ballot by our Board of Canvassers.
Most importantly, I wanted to note that I don’t fault our local board. They are good people with high integrity doing their best for the city. Unfortunately, through a series of bizarre actions by the state, they were put in an untenable position.
The casino vote was requested by Mayor Harry Winthrop and Vice Chair Naomi Neville on May 28th. It passed on a 4-3 vote (with myself, Kate Leonard and Justin opposing).
The state legislature received Harry and Naomi’s request and it was immediately taken up by the house and senate.
One bill was the subject of significant attention: H8294. That bill was amended early on, and became known as H8294A. This version included the requirement of both a state AND a local ballot referendum.
Well as has become typical, the last night of the legislative session was a bit of a circus. At some point at around 3:00am, H8294A and its companion senate bill were amended to ELIMINATE the local ballot and allow Newport’s state ballot response to serve as its local ballot. Now the bill became known as “H8294A as amended” or more simply: “H8294Aa”.
Apparently, the issue was not discussed substantively by legislators after it emerged from a 2:00 am closed door session. Perhaps if it was discussed, the legislators would have discovered that the amendment conflicted with a state requirement that gambling measures be on both state AND local ballots, and that local ballots be printed on a distinctive background.
The 3:00am amendment seems to unintentionally invalidate the “distinctive background” requirement for local ballot questions. (Seasoned voters will recall that the state ballot questions are printed on white or blue paper, while local questions are always printed on yellow paper.)
This is one more reason that lawmakers should put an end to the practice of lawmaking in the wee hours of the morning. This issue should have been resolved in the light of day. Maybe the casino lobby wouldn’t have been so bold in demanding the 3:00 am amendment, if the issue could have been properly vetted.
Regardless, this problem was compounded when the bills were posted. Apparently, the state posted H8294A instead of H8294Aa. And so when our Board of Canvassers convened on 8/5 to fulfill their duty to submit local questions, that law seemed to require them to request a local ballot on the casino issue. And they were required to do it before 8/6.
Well, after the local ballot was submitted by our Board, the Secretary of State identified the H8294A/H8294Aa screwup and notified our Board that they had inadvertently followed the wrong law.
Following discussions with the Secretary of State and the legislature’s office of legislative counsel, our solicitor concluded that the law required a single ballot. That was the basis of our Board of Canvasser’s vote.
There was no collusion or malfeasance on the part of our local board of canvassers. They were simply put in a terrible position by the actions of the state and the casino interests - both of whom are desperate to use Newport to wring more gambling revenue from our city.
This ill-conceived process is just one more reason to vote to Reject question #1.