A countywide indoor smoking ban may be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot for St. Charles County voters to decide.
Smoke Free St. Charles County, a coalition of health groups and citizens, turned in what they said were petitions with more than 30,000 signatures seeking to place the smoking ban on the election ballot in the form of a charter amendment.
The petition was submitted to the St. Charles Election Authority on July 25. A similar petition may be submitted in St. Louis County in several weeks, the organization’s Facebook site states.
The petition would ban smoking in all enclosed public places such as restaurants, hotels, motels, membership clubs, casinos, stores, bars, employment and vehicles owned or used by an employer.
“Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air, and St. Louis County and St. Charles County have the opportunity to protect that right at the November polls,” a statement on the Smoke Free St. Charles County Facebook page reads. “Our communities have unwavering support for smoke-free environments, and need your support to make it happen.”
Smoking ban advocates have been discussing the petition in both counties dating back to last year. The ban in St. Charles County would apply to municipalities and the unincorporated areas; Lake Saint Louis and O’Fallon already have smoking bans.
For the charter amendment to go on the St. Charles County ballot, petitions must be signed by registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of the total vote for governor in 2016 in five of the County Council’s seven districts – that would be about 20,000 signatures.
But the process isn’t as simple as dropping off petitions at the election authority. Along with meeting voter total requirements in five council districts, the signatures have to be verified by the county Election Authority, said Rich Chrismer, director of the county election authority.
“Anybody not a registered voter and who doesn’t live in our county is automatically stricken. That’s why we tell people when they are doing petitions they need to have a good buffer,” Chrismer said.
Chrismer said officials from Smoke Free St. Charles County first said they had about 21,000 signatures when they turned in the petitions. Later, Chrismer said they told him they had more like 30,000 signatures or more.
“So we have no idea how many they have,” Chrismer said.
“If they have 21,000, they are in trouble. If it’s 30,000, they are okay,” he said.
A problem for the election authority is getting the count completed. Back in 2004, due to issues reviewing signatures on another petition drive, voter registration cards were placed in computer-accessible files where signatures can be more quickly reviewed.
Chrismer said the verification is faster, but with 20,000-30,000 signatures to review, it’s going to take time. And Chrismer said he has just 14 staff members.
“We’re going to try but we have this election [the Aug. 7 primary] coming up in 11 days,” Chrismer said. “That’s our priority.”
The deadline for placing items on the Nov. 6 ballot is Aug. 28. Smoke Free St. Charles County will have to ask the County Council to agree to place the charter amendment on the November ballot.
Chrismer also noted that the petition and ballot language are lengthy.
“It’s three-and-a-half pages long and it’s very extensive,” he said. “I don’t know how they are going to get all the language down to a number that can fit on the ballot.”
Bar and restaurant owners and the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles have opposed bans in the past. Councilman Joe Cronin, [District 1] has been the one councilman who has explored smoking bans in public places.