Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying “you can fool some of the people all of the time.” Backers of a casino in Southern Maine certainly managed to do so by disguising their efforts to get the issue on the ballot as an economic development, fairness and jobs issue.

Mindful of this blatant subterfuge, members of the Maine Legislature are searching for a parliamentary maneuver that would allow them to preclude putting the issue on a statewide referendum ballot.

At the same time, Gov. Paul LePage is looking for ways to countermand a referendum vote that approved a 3 percent surcharge on incomes over $200,000 to raise additional money for public education. LePage is scrambling for ways to ignore that mandate, even if it means adopting other laws that will, in effect, negate the will of the people.

Both these efforts, however well-intentioned, stray onto dangerous ground. Preserving the integrity of the electoral process has to be the first and foremost consideration of our elected officials as discussions proceed on all these matters.

Petitioning the government for a redress of grievances is the bedrock of democracy. Lawmakers grasping at straws to kill the casino ballot question need to ask themselves if the damage they may do to the people’s faith in the process by stopping the vote is worth the results.

There is ample time to inform people about what a bad deal it is for Maine. Officials need to have faith in the intelligence of an informed populace to stop it at the ballot box.

What is worth discussion on both these issues is whether it is too easy to get enough signatures to put something on a referendum ballot. Especially troubling is the practice of allowing paid petition circulators. Certainly the results of the effort to place an exclusive casino deal into the hands of just one company should not have been so easy.

Exactly because it is the last resort for people who have lost faith in the ability of politicians in the legislature to act in their best interests, the referendum route needs to remain an option. How easy it is to travel that route – and what is an appropriate threshold for putting something directly to the voters – is worth debating.

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