Don’t blame the system for failure of Internet cafe petition

Despite a well-funded campaign, with much of the money coming from out of state, backers of a referendum to allow ”Internet cafe” gambling in Ohio lost their battle last week. Instead of admitting defeat gracefully, some in the group blamed the system.

That is, they noted their campaign to put the issue on the November 2014 election ballot was the first under new requirements for statewide referendums. The requirements are too demanding, they said.

Internet cafe supporters are not the first to complain about the referendum rules. Reportedly, the Columbus-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is planning a court challenge to the rules.

For several weeks, opponents of the new law banning most Internet cafe gambling were confident they would gain enough petition signatures to seek voter rejection of the ban. But it turned out many of the signatures they submitted were invalid and, by Friday, they were not able to collect enough new ones to meet the requirement.

To get an issue on a statewide ballot, supporters must present petitions bearing the signatures of 231,148 registered Ohio voters. In addition, they must gain substantial amounts of signatures in at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties.

The number of valid signatures required amounts to only about 3 percent of the total of registered voters in the state. That does not seem unreasonable.

We agree with opponents of Internet cafe gambling. Some of them interpreted the referendum campaign’s failure simply as a mass rejection of Internet cafe gambling by Ohioans.

State legislators must walk a fine line between allowing too much access and not enough to the referendum process. In some states, election ballots are packed with issues on insignificant – sometimes ridiculous – matters. In others, it is too difficult for the people, through referendums, to overrule their government.

Rejection of the Internet cafe issue should not be taken as an indication Ohio’s requirements for ballot access are too tough, however. Again, Internet cafe supporters may well have just lost the battle in the court of public opinion.