2014-08-28 / Opinion

EDITORIAL

Questions Abound

Questions abound in the aftermath of this week’s furor over whether voters in November should cast a local as well as a statewide ballot on the question of Newport Grand adding table games to its slots menu.

In rejecting a similar proposal two years ago, statewide voters approved the idea but Newport voters did not. Under state law, both had to approve or the proposal failed. In Newport, the ballot asked the question twice, once in the local section and again among state referendum issues.

Most people thought that was where things were headed in 2014. But then, on Friday, Aug. 22, the Newport Canvassing Authority learned something that apparently very few others were aware of – that in the wee hours of June 22, the Rhode Island House and Senate approved a bill calling for just one statewide referendum question on the matter. That did away with the duplicate question in the local ballot section. A second question–whether to restrict Newport Grand in the future to its current location–remains on the statewide ballot.

The first question is this: How did the late-night June 22 legislative change at the General Assembly elude local officials until late August?

Or did it? Someone must have known. Senate President Teresa M. Paiva Weed lives in Newport. So does three-term House incumbent Peter F. Martin, who should know his way around the State House by now. If they didn’t know about this, then they were asleep at the switch.

At the State House, local lawmakers should as a courtesy be consulted before bills such as this go to a vote. Did that happen? If not, why not?

Newport residents have a right to know.

On Tuesday, Aug. 26, city canvassers, following the dictates of the new state law, made all of this official when they voted unanimously to decertify the local ballot question. That action formally removed what would have been Question 8 in the local referendum section of Newport’s November ballot.

They did this as more than 50 people rallied against that action outside City Hall.

So now we ask, does it really make that much difference?

Casino opponents argue that the state Constitution requires two referenda on any expansion of gambling. That’s how it was done with this Newport issue in the past. Foes maintain that approval of both is necessary.

As one argument goes, changing the makeup of the ballot for this November’s vote will confuse some voters and thereby is unfair.

Really?

Another vein of thought is that this insults the intelligence of Newport voters. If you feel strongly about table games at Newport Grand, then you are smart enough to mark your vote in the only place possible on the November ballot.

This whole business has become a sordid mess. The fact of the matter is that the people of Newport still have more than two months to acquaint themselves with the ballot they will encounter on Nov. 4. We think that Newport voters will do just that. And, for that matter, we believe that they would have done that had this year’s ballot on the Newport Grand issue been the same as in 2012.

Right now we need to get back to discussing the issues, not the ballot. Perhaps as the campaigns unfold in September and October, answers to some of the other questions we have raised will be forthcoming.

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