This is an off-election year, a time when we should be able to take a collective break from the scuttlebutt of backroom scheming leading up to candidate declarations, primary battles and, finally, Election Day. We’re also getting a break from the back and forth attacks of candidates; the polling that seems to guide so much of what the candidates say and do next; and, of course, all those lawn signs.
But this is not a time devoid of politics. Politics is a sport in Rhode Island and, like the off-season of baseball, football, hockey and basketball, diehard fans follow them just as closely as when the teams are on the playing fields or courts. It’s the time when players sign contracts; changes to the game and money still get a lot of attention.
The same is happening in politics.
The state’s top job has carried the headlines with speculation of how the candidates might line up, what political label they might choose and how much money they have raised. And then there have been polls, all of it making for a lot of “what if” guesswork. Nothing is too outlandish. Everyone is a pundit and fuels the rumor mills.
But there is a piece of political work that legislators can accomplish during this off-season that would require the electorate be more informed when they cast their ballots: The elimination of the “master lever” from the ballot.
The single pen mark to vote for all candidates from one party is a carryover from those old mechanical voting machines with their everyone-on-the-slate levers.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard of legislation to scratch that easy whole slate vote feature from the paper ballot. There was a preponderance of testimony favoring banishment. Party officials have lined up behind the bill, as have state and city elected leaders. It seems that this year virtually everyone who can effect the change are of like mind.
If only that was the case.
Let’s not forget, this is politics. The rules of the game are subject to politics, too. Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox, made that very clear in a story by reporter Jennifer Rodrigues. Asked if Fox would support House Bill 5072, Berman said Fox would listen to testimony adding, “He has not been overly supportive of this. He has said that it is an option. Nobody is forced to fill in a box; some people like that option.”
Realistically, voting patterns indicate that many voters go no further than the master lever. They don’t cast votes for non-partisan candidates, such as those for school committee; or for non-party or independent candidates; or on referendum issues.
Moderate Party founder and leader Ken Block has made eliminating the master lever a priority. And, knowing how the political game is played, he has activated a website listing the positions of all legislators on the measure and is providing the means for people to sign a petition in favor of the bill.
We urge those who may have questions about eliminating the master lever to visit the site at www.masterlever.org.
In the meantime, the off-election year maneuvering of the master lever just goes to prove that elected officials never take a break from politics and there’s always a show for those who follow the game.