In 1939 the world spiraled headlong into a second World War. “The Wizard of Oz” made a splash in movie theaters across the country. Nylon stockings went on sale for the first time and CBS television began transmission.
A lot has happened since 1939, and a lot has changed.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is a law that’s been getting a lot of attention as of late. Enacted in 1939 by a Republican-dominated General Assembly, Rhode Island’s master lever law, or straight party ticket option, has been available to voters for 74 years. The law was put on the books at a time when ballots were split between parties and voting for multiple parties’ candidates was tricky and confusing. The master lever option, which gets its name from the era where voters manually pulled levers to cast their votes, was a way for people to conveniently say, “Yes, I want to vote for everybody on my party’s ballot.”
Today, things are different. Ballots present all party candidates and voters have a multitude of options. Not to mention, there aren’t any levers. A simple swipe of a marker does the trick, and an optical machine reads the ballots and files the votes electronically.
Ken Block, founder and chairman of the Rhode Island Moderate Party, thinks now is the time to eliminate what he sees as an antiquated and befuddling practice. The master lever option, he says, confuses voters, detracts votes from non-Democrat and non-partisan candidates, and mucks up the election process in general.
And Block isn’t alone. He’s gained support from legislators, clean government groups, Governor Chafee, Secretary of State Mollis and municipal leaders, too.
We think Block’s idea is valid. The master lever has got to go.
In November, a quarter of voters employed the master lever. A small percentage used it to cast a Moderate Party ballot, but many of those people’s ballots didn’t even have Moderate Party candidates on them. In addition, some people marked a single party ticket and then picked additional, individual candidates. This practice confuses the automated system and often negates the voter’s intentions. What’s more, non-partisan candidates are often left in the dust; when a single party ticket is cast, none of them receive a vote.
Block said that any practice that contributes to voter confusion should be immediately eliminated, and we agree. Secretary of State Mollis said he would introduce legislation to ban the master lever this session, something he did in 2011, too. We hope the legislature will seriously consider this measure this year and help to clean up the election process in the state.