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Will RI Kill the Master Lever?

Monday, January 07, 2013


Moderate Party chairman and former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block is leading an effort to abolish the so-called master lever, which allows for straight ticket voting with one mark on the ballot in Rhode Island elections.

Block has launched a website (http://www.masterlever.org) and that gives voters the opportunity to e-mail Governor Lincoln Chafee and House and Senate leadership on the issue. As on Sunday, Block said in a Facebook post that close to 3,000 e-mails had been sent.

Only 16 states across the country allow straight ticket voting. Three states eliminated the option in the 1990’s and two more have done so since 2000.

“The best academic evidence indicates that when voters use the master lever their true preferences for candidates and parties are not realized,” Block’s website states. “In Rhode Island, with 16 communities that have non-partisan town/city councils and school committees or both, the master lever results in significant numbers of voters not examining the entire ballot. Non-partisan races are often overlooked and not voted in by voters who use the master lever.”

The website lists only two elected officials as against eliminating the master lever (Senator Ryan Pearson and Rep. Gus Silva, but the majority of legislators have not voiced their opinion on the matter.

Block’s effort, which has gained support from good government groups and elected officials from every party, isn’t the first attempt to rid Rhode Island of the master lever. In 2009, now-Minority Leader Brian Newberry and Democrat Michael Marcello introduced legislation to end straight ticket voting. A similar bill was sponsored in the Senate by Senator David Bates, but nothing came of the legislation.

“The straight ticket voting option is a relic left over from the old days of machine politics that favors parties over people,” Newberry said at the time. “By eliminating this option, it would force candidates to reach out to communities and make their positions known, as opposed to relying on their party label.”

Said Marcello: “While the straight ticket voting option does make the voting process quicker for some, the controversy surrounding its use has unfairly called into question the legitimacy and fairness of elections. I believe that people who want to vote for all candidates from a particular party will continue to do so, and the elimination of the straight-party lever will finally end the speculation that somehow election outcomes would be different. I am confident that the party with the better message and ideas will continue to be the winner in the election with or without the straight ticket option."


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