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Op-Ed: The Will of New Jersey Voters Must Be Respected

Ballot measure on gaming against state constitution

steven perskie
Steven P. Perskie

Last November, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly rejected Public Question #1 — the ballot question that would have resulted in two North Jersey casinos.

Almost immediately, supporters of the question began efforts to sidestep voters with new proposals to expand gaming outside of Atlantic City.  These proposals included legislation authorizing video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the horse racing tracks and placing a modified version of casino expansion back on the ballot in 2017.

Constitutionally, a failed referendum cannot appear on the ballot within two years of the initial vote unless it undergoes material changes.

On Election Day, the voters of New Jersey exercised their power to reject the effort of the Legislature to amend our constitution to allow for an expansion of casino gaming to northern New Jersey. By a margin of over 1.6 million citizens, we stood together to tell the Legislature that casino gaming should not be spread beyond Atlantic City.

Despite the overwhelming defeat in November and the clear constitutional language preventing a failed proposal from being resubmitted, gaming expansion proponents are trying to circumvent the will of the people at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic revenue. It is clear that our representatives in Trenton should listen to the voice of the people and obey the constitutional mandate, thus rejecting any attempt to put the question of casino expansion in any form back on the ballot in 2017.

Since the adoption of the Constitution of 1844, New Jersey has emphasized the importance of the approval of the voting public in the process of amending our constitution. Under the 1844 Constitution, any proposed amendment that was rejected by the voters could not be resubmitted for five years. Today’s Constitution, ratified in 1947, provides that “[i]f at the election a proposed amendment shall not be approved, neither such proposed amendment nor one to effect the same or substantially the same change in the Constitution shall be submitted to the people before the third general election thereafter.”

The wording of both the 1844 and 1947 constitutions is important in the emphasis that each document places on the will of the people of New Jersey. By voting against a proposed constitutional amendment, the public has always had the ability to control the process and prevent repetitive efforts by the Legislature to adopt constitutional provisions that have been determined to be unacceptable to the people. Now, Trenton legislators would seize that control from the public in favor of another ill-conceived plan with no public support.

Simply put, a constitutional amendment that is rejected by the public cannot again be placed on the ballot for three general elections. Beyond nearly 175 years of collective wisdom and history, there is ample reason to protect and preserve this unique power of the people. Our constitution is our basic framework of government. Proposed amendments should be approved only after careful thought and thorough deliberation, both by our representatives and by the public. And when the people have spoken, as in this instance they have done so emphatically, our elected representatives are required by law to listen. That is why the constitution has wisely provided, for so long and with such success, that failed amendment proposals must not be resubmitted without a period that allows for thoughtful reconsideration and a showing of different or changed circumstances.

As a member of the New Jersey General Assembly from 1972 to 1978 and the New Jersey State Senate from 1978 to 1982, Steven P. Perskie was the author and prime sponsor of the 1976 constitutional amendment to authorize casino gaming in New Jersey and the 1977 Casino Control Act that regulates the gaming industry. He also served as the chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission from 1990 to 1994.

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