Eliminating the master lever in Rhode Island elections is picking up steam in the General Assembly. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says getting rid of straight party voting may be much ado about not much. The Rhode Island House of Representatives recently voted unanimously to end the so-called master lever, a relic of the state’s urban political machine past. A conga line of statewide elected politicians, from Gov. Lincoln Chafee down to Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, support this change. Good government groups and Rhode Island’s beleaguered Republican Party have been campaigning vigorously to curb straight party ballots. And many in the media, especially the editorial pages of the Providence Journal, have been on a crusade to scuttle it. The master level isn’t even a lever anymore. It was a dubbed the master lever when voters cast ballots in those big boxy metal voting machines that were enclosed in a thick curtain to maintain privacy. With one flick of a lever at the top of the machine, a voter could cast a straight party ticket, without having to click the levers next to the names of each individual candidate. When the state junked the machines for paper ballots that were counted with supermarket-style scanners, straight party voting survived as a single box at the top of the ballot. Thus, a voter who wanted to vote an all Republican or Democratic ticket could do so by drawing a line connecting one box, which eliminates the need to go all the way down the ballot and checking each individual box next to a candidate name.
Proponents of abolishing the straight party option say it will end voter confusion and require that those casting ballots take the time to more carefully consider down ballot candidates and referenda questions. Republican State Chairman Mark Smiley has a more self-interested reason – he thinks it will make the GOP more competitive. Elimination of this option will “restore a more balanced two-party system in Rhode Island,’’ says Smiley.
Others make more elaborate claims, asserting that repeal would end government corruption and usher in a better economy.
Proponents of repeal are correct about one element: Rhode Island is out of synch with national trends on this issue. Just 14 states still allow straight party voting. They range from our cobalt blue state to such red state conservative redoubts as Texas, South Carolina and Kentucky.
Full Article: RI Master Lever Myths | Rhode Island Public Radio.