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Casino-Backed Smoking Ban Won't Be On November Ballot

Several thousand signatures on petition were found to be invalid, Election Authority said. Organizer Carl Bearden says he'll sue to keep other smoking ban proposed by County Councilman Joe Cronin off the November ballot.

The St. Charles County smoking ban petition backed by will not appear on the Nov. 6 ballot because the petitioners did not obtain enough valid signatures, according to the St. Charles Election Authority.

Petitioners needed at least 18,535 valid signatures and the Election Authority found that just 14,801 signatures were valid, said Rich Chrismer, director of the election authority. 

Many of the signatures turned in either were not registered voters, included a wrong address or were duplicates, Chrismer said. 

The petition drive was organized by Carl Bearden, a former state Representative for St. Charles County. It would have offered exemptions to businesses that cater to people over age 21, to the casino, and to businesses that offer an enclosed area that's ventilated. 

Bearden said the organizers felt it was important to get the issue on the ballot in November. 

"It’s the right balance for this issue, but things don’t always work out in life they way you want them to. But it’s important not to give up," he said. 

Bearden said he will speak with members of the coalition and look into possibly putting it on the April election. 

"The charter does not give a time limitation on signatures, so we believe they should be returned and we could supplement them and resubmit them at a later date," he said. 

Chrismer said it's unclear whether the Election Authority can return the signatures. The signatures are currently in his possession and he said typically whatever group certifies the signatures maintains custody of the signatures. 

It's also not clear whether the petition could appear on the ballot in April. Chrismer said the charter specifies that a petitions can appear on the ballot in a general election; the next one won't be until November 2013.

"The April election is called a general municipal election," he said. "The lawyers will decide if the next general election is indeed April or is November."

Bearden said he'll consult with the coalition which comprises restaurant owners, bar owners, VFW halls and bowling alley owners, in addition to being financially supported by Ameristar Casino.

"We’ll have to collect additional signatures if coalition says that’s direction we want to go," he said. 

Bearden also said he would fight against the , which Cronin hopes to have put on the November ballot. 

"We don't believe his proposal is valid," Bearden said. "If the County Executive does happen to sign it, litigation is not our first course of action but we will do it if necessary."

Bearden said he would argue that Cronin did not follow the rule that requires the language to be available to the public 36 hours in advance before it's first read. 

"We would challenge that bill legally," he said. 

The is expected to vote on Monday on whether to put the smoking ban proposed by Joe Cronin on the November ballot. 

Cronin's bill would also offer an exemption to casinos. 

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