Master lever doesn’t make it to full Council
Moderate Party founder and chairman Ken Block continues to campaign to eliminate the straight party voting option in Rhode Island. But in Cranston, the master lever isn't going anywhere - at least not for now.
The Cranston City Council's ordinance committee voted 4-3 to deny a resolution that would have encouraged the General Assembly to eliminate single-party voting. Councilmen Paul Archetto and Mario Aceto, Vice President Michael Farina and President John Lanni voted down the resolution.
"Both parties have the opportunity to use the master lever," Farina said.
One of the arguments against straight party voting is that it disproportionably benefits Democrats. According to the Rhode Island Board of Elections, 21,139 voters used the master lever in 2012 to vote for Republicans. Another 9,295 used it to vote for the Moderate Party.
Votes for Democrats greatly surpassed those figures, with 74,399 voters supporting the state's dominant party through the master lever.
That is not to say that all Democrats support the process, which was enacted in Rhode Island in 1939. At the ordinance committee level, Democrats Steve Stycos and Sarah Kales Lee wanted to support the resolution, which was put forward by Republican Don Botts.
"I think it disenfranchises voters; you're disenfranchising voters by limiting their ability to pick a candidate," Botts said. "I don't think you should vote blindly. It's time to get rid of it."
At the General Assembly, Cranston Rep. Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41) has led the charge, introducing the bill to ban the master lever in 2011.
At the time that the master lever was created, voting machines required voters to physically pull levers to cast votes. The master lever was deemed less laborious, particularly for seniors or individuals with disabilities.
Rhode Island is today one of only 15 states that use the master lever, and Botts believes it is time for a change.
"I think seniors are perfectly capable of reading a ballot. Now, on the electronic cards, it's just drawing lines," he said.
Block worries that the master lever now does more harm than good, confusing voters. While the Moderate Party chairman wants voters to support Moderate candidates, some master lever pulls in his favor occurred in communities where no Moderates were on the ballot. Botts adds that the current system discourages potential candidates from running in minority parties, as the master lever favors Democrats. In 2010, roughly 46,000 voters used the lever. In 2012, a presidential election year, that number more than doubled to 104,844 voters.
Many voters might also not realize that by casting the master lever, they are ignoring non-partisan School Committee candidates as well as ballot questions.
"There is evidence that there's a lot of under-voting as far as School Committee goes, and that's 50 percent of the budget," Botts said.
Farina says voters deserve more credit than that.
"We have a lot of elderly people who do use the master lever and know who they're voting for," he said.
He used an uncle of his as an example. Farina's uncle has cerebral palsy, so the master lever makes voting easier for him, but as a lifelong Democrat, he knows the candidates he is supporting by connecting that one party line.
Farina said he might someday support a movement to remove the straight party option, but only if there are significant efforts made to educate voters.
"We don't really do a good job as a city educating people on how to vote," he said.