Philly’s Ballot Box

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Rather than allow the public to have their say, the PA Gaming Control Board, SugarHouse, and Foxwoods sued the city to prevent a vote from going forward on creating a 1,500-foot buffer between casinos and homes, places of worship, schools, and parks.

In a decision reeking of corruption, the PA Supreme Court overruled the city’s right and the right of the voters by handing down an injunction that prevented the vote from taking place. A sticker stating, “Removed by Court Order” was placed over the already-printed ballot question on each voting machine. Once again, many politicians, reporters, and pundits declared the anti-casino movement dead.

But we take a bold response to repression. Instead of seeing this as a loss, we saw this as a chance to show the city just how deeply casinos and corruption were intertwined.

In just four weeks, Casino-Free Philadelphia designed and ran Philadelphia’s first citizens’ election, Philly’s Ballot Box. On May 15, 2007, we set up five-foot-tall ballot boxes at polling places in every councilmanic, state senate and state legislative district. More than 13,000 people across the city participated in Philly’s Ballot Box. Ninety-five percent said “YES” to the 1,500-foot buffer.

Even more significantly, a majority of voters at every polling station voted in Philly’s Ballot Box (60% of all voters) — meaning that had the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed the vote to go forward, voters would have approved the casino buffer referendum in overwhelming numbers.

Philly’s Ballot Box received local and statewide attention. Even with a competitive mayoral primary election, we received front-page coverage in the Metro and coverage by TV news channels on election day.

The result: The voters’ clear statement in Philly’s Ballot Box helped secure city council’s support for the long-term and led to the introduction of the casino buffer question at the state level via House Bill 1477. Yet the greatest result from Philly’s Ballot Box was that it renewed people’s sense of self-empowerment and creativity in the face of injustice.