Historically, the newspapers that make up Wednesday Journal Inc., including the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, haven’t been big on advisory referenda.
The non-binding nature of such referenda can cause people to ignore them, stripping them of some of their significance. They also tend to be slam dunk results with predictable winning percentages of 75 or 80 percent.
Many advisory referenda represent fringe causes – you run into these types of referendum questions via the township route, where sparsely attended annual meetings draw people who want pet causes put to a vote.
Here’s our biggest objection with legislating through advisory referenda – leaders are elected to make decisions and set policy. If the voters are unhappy with those policies and decisions, they can elect others who reflect their will.
Sometimes you can’t avoid a referendum. For example, state law forces non-home rule communities like Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside to go to referendum if they want to raise taxes beyond what’s allowed on an annual basis. You want $22 million to pave streets? Then you ask voters if that’s what they want to do, and you live with the result.
With respect to putting an advisory referendum regarding video gambling on the March primary ballot, we have a couple of thoughts.
First, turnout for primary elections tends to be light in the first place. Voter turnout in Riverside Township (not exactly the same as the village of Riverside, but illustrative nonetheless) in the last gubernatorial primary in 2014 was about 10 percent.
Second, there is a process by which there can be a binding referendum on video gambling. The bar is high – you need petition signatures from 25 percent of registered voters — and the mandated referendum question has the potential to confuse voters, but a path toward a binding vote is there.
For us, what it boils down to is elected leaders deciding on policy. How much more debate needs to take place on the subject of video gambling? After quite a bit of conversation on the subject back in 2015 and 2016, it seems pretty clear to us that a large majority of residents do not want it.
We’re not even sure businesses that could benefit from the introduction of video gambling even want it. Two years ago, two business owners approached the village about it, and this time around it was just one. As far as a revenue generator for the village, its impact is likely to be very low. There just doesn’t seem to be a clarion call for video gambling in Riverside.
If you really want video gambling in town and want to be heard, the village board will be kicking it around again at their meeting on Dec. 7. Whether or not the decision is to craft a draft ordinance that includes all kinds of restrictions and then debate that later, or to simply end the debate once and for all – the decision should come from the village board and not through an advisory referendum.