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‘Master lever’ ballot may be phased out

The option currently allows a voter to vote for every candidate from a particular political party

Two state representatives proposed legislation in January to eliminate the master lever — a tool that allows voters to select every candidate from any party with a single mark on the ballot.

The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Cranston, and Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, Burrillville, said they aim to encourage voters to learn more about specific candidates instead of voting along party lines, according to a press release from the General Assembly.

The current policy “wreaks havoc on local elections,” Newberry said. Voters who use the master lever option to support candidates solely because of their party affiliation end up voting for local candidates with whom they are unfamiliar, he added.

The legislation could also pressure candidates to increase campaigning instead of relying on support based on their party.

Ken Block, founder and chairman of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island, said the master lever creates an advantage for the state’s Democratic candidates.

“The average Democratic representative candidate starts out with a 16 percent advantage,” Block said. “In a great many races, this makes the difference.”

Rhode Island is currently one of 16 states that has maintained the master lever ballot option.

“This argument has been made for decades and decades, and the Democratically-controlled government has refused to allow a change,” Block said of Rhode Island.

After losing a bid for the governor’s office in 2010 as a moderate candidate, Block began his campaign to remove the master lever for the ballot. Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14, an independent, won the contest.

A petition against the tool has generated 1,664 signatures on Block’s website.

“Ballots show that voters are confused about the purpose of the master lever,” Block said. “Many voters believe it is an indication of their political philosophy.”

Rep. Thomas Palangio, D-Providence, said he opposes the elimination of the master lever.

“Many times individuals don’t know who they’re voting for, and they should have the option to just vote for one party,” Palangio said, adding that more emphasis should be on party platforms and less on individual candidates.

“It means something to be a Democrat. It means something other than just a political party,” Palangio said.

He added that “no one is obligated to push the lever” — the lever is just one option voters have.

Democratic control in the General Assembly may prevent a mote on the measure, Newberry said, but “if it comes to a vote, it will pass.”


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