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Amendment 4 opponents to appeal suit's dismissal

Despite allegations that rampant fraud helped put a progambling measure on the ballot in November, a judge decided Tuesday she cannot intervene because the voters have spoken.

Leon Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark dismissed a lawsuit over Amendment 4 brought by antigambling advocates. The plaintiffs said they will appeal.

The state constitutional amendment, approved by 51 percent of voters in the Nov. 2 election, allows slot machines at existing dog and horse tracks and jai alai frontons in Miami-Dade and Broward counties if local voters agree. If the Legislature taxes the machines, the revenue must go to public schools.

"The court affirmed what the people of Florida have already demanded loud and clear," said Jim Horne, the former state education secretary who was spokesman for the parimutuel-backed initiative.

But the plaintiffs, including the Humane Society of the United States and Grey2K USA, a group that opposes dog tracks, said their case will fare better on appeal.

"What this ruling said is you can commit all the fraud you want to get something on the ballot and if you wait until after the election, it doesn't matter," said Mark Herron, president of a third plaintiff, Floridians Against Expanded Gambling.

The lawsuit, filed in late September, contended that thousands of fraudulent signatures were among the 488,722 required to get the measure on the ballot. In Broward alone, the plaintiffs found 33 petitions signed with the names of dead voters.

The plaintiffs also argue that county and state elections officials did not adequately review the petitions before accepting them.

In October, Clark refused to strike the measure from the ballot, saying the defense did not have adequate time to prepare. Besides the parimutuel-backed Citizens for Local Control, defendants included Secretary of State Glenda Hood, county elections supervisors and ARNO Consulting, the California firm hired to collect signatures. ARNO has said it is not responsible for any alleged fraud.

On Tuesday, Clark said there was no legal precedent to intervene if there is no evidence the election itself was tainted.

"To invalidate this amendment after the fact on the grounds asserted would thwart the will of the people who voted for it and would improperly inject this court into the political process," Clark wrote.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is continuing to investigate allegations that petition gatherers connected to several citizen initiatives might have engaged in fraud to qualify their measures for the ballot, spokesman Tom Berling said Tuesday.