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‘Boats in moats’ to float on Missouri’s Nov. ballot

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Although acknowledging widespread signature fraud, Missouri’s secretary of state announced Aug. 21 she had certified pro-gambling petitions to place a “boats in moats” proposal on the state’s Nov. 3 general election ballot.
The initiative, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 9, would alter the Missouri constitution to allow slot machines and other games of chance in riverboat casinos located in man-made waterways adjacent to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Such casinos already operate in Missouri, but games of chance in them were ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1997. These casinos have been dubbed “boats in moats.”
Secretary of State Rebecca McDowell Cook, in a news conference in the state capital, Jefferson City, said county clerks and her staff had authenticated more than enough signatures on the proposal’s petitions — 146,016, over the required 114,053 — to declare it valid for the ballot.
But she acknowledged reports of fraudulent signatures on many petitions. Her office invalidated all signatures submitted by one petition circulator. Cook said a man named David Jackson submitted 1,034 petition pages containing 7,078 signatures from 75 different counties in Missouri. According to Cook, several of the people whose names appeared on Jackson’s petitions denied they had signed.
At least 27 of the names Jackson collected belonged to dead people, Cook said.
“The fraud is wide-ranging; I find it incredible and despicable,” Cook said. She went on to allege that Jackson’s fraud was so evident “he must have really thought we were idiots.”
Cook said she had not been able to locate Jackson or the two notaries who signed his most questionable pages. She said her office determined that Jackson registered to vote via postcard last May in Greene County, Mo. On his voter registration card, he listed a Springfield motel as his address.
Jackson was employed by National Petition Management, a California firm, to collect signatures, Cook said. Such firms routinely are hired by political action committees to collect signatures for petition initiatives. Circulators usually are paid per signature.
Don Poston, a spokesman for Missourians for Fairness and Jobs, the gaming industry-supported organization seeking passage of the amendment, said the problems with one petition circulator like Jackson shouldn’t reflect badly on the rest of the gambling industry.
“He is not connected with the gaming industry,” he told the Missouri Baptist Word & Way newsjournal. “We are as upset about it as anybody — we want to see it prosecuted to the fullest.”
But Poston acknowledged his organization had contracted with Winner, Wagner and Mandebach Campaigns, another California-based company, to organize the petition drive. That firm in turn contracted with the company that hired David Jackson.
Cook also indicated her office was investigating claims of fraud in other areas. She emphasized her staff had undertaken the most extensive petition investigation in the history of the secretary of state’s office, but still were rushed for time and relied heavily on county clerks to verify signatures.
Steve Taylor, director of the St. Louis-based gambling industry watchdog group Casino Watch, said he accepts Cook’s ruling, but that doesn’t give him much confidence in the exhaustiveness of her investigation. “I don’t think anyone’s confident that all the bogus signatures have been found — especially when you’re contracting with out-of-state firms to collect signatures,” he said.
“There seems to be a pattern of this type of abuse when it comes to casinos and elections,” Taylor said, referring to similar allegations of petition fraud in 1994 when a previous amendment legalizing casino gambling passed. But Taylor takes that as a good sign about the righteousness of his cause. “I think if a majority of the voters didn’t oppose gambling, you wouldn’t be seeing this kind of thing.” Taylor said that leaves the bottom line to mobilizing voters in November. “We are just going to have to get the vote out. We can’t change the minds of the dead at this point; they seem to be heavily in favor of expanding gambling.”
Meanwhile, Missouri Baptist Convention leaders, who have been authorized by the MBC executive board to organize statewide efforts opposing the “boats in moats” gambling amendment, met Aug. 21 at the Baptist Building in Jefferson City to organize a strategy for combating the proposal.
The strategy will focus on organization through local churches to encourage Baptists to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
MBC Executive Director Jim Hill said the strategy has four main elements:
— a focus on concerted prayer efforts among church members opposed to gambling.
— encouragement for each local church to ensure that as many as possible of its eligible members are registered to vote in time for the November election.
— an attempt to get each congregation to appoint its own gambling-awareness coordinator who will be responsible for calling every church member to inform them of the issues related to the boats-in-moats amendment in particular and gambling in general.
— informing churches that their members who attend the MBC annual meeting, which takes place Nov. 2-4 in St. Louis, must obtain absentee ballots.
Hill said letters explaining the strategy would be sent to every MBC-affiliated association by Aug. 31, and letters and information packets for local churches would be in the mail by Sept. 4.
“I think the materials will help our churches mobilize their members to respond to this issue and stop the expansion of gambling in Missouri,” Hill said. “The issue, as far as I’m concerned, is not very complicated. It’s just a matter of getting Baptists to go vote.
“We think we could have stopped the gambling industry in Missouri earlier if a higher percentage of our members and other Christians in the state had simply voted in previous elections.”

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  • Rob Marus