September 30, 2014
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Time for Senate to take final step on lever

The consensus seems overwhelming. The state’s House of Representatives several weeks ago voted to eliminate straight-party voting – the “master lever” – on a 71-0 vote. Many of the state’s most prominent elected leaders and candidates have come out in support of ending the lever. Scores of citizens recently took part in a State House rally in support of the decades-old cause.

The lever’s fate now rests with the state Senate, where the momentum toward action has slowed. Some senators have raised concerns with the abolition of the lever and sought further study. Those who support straight-party voting point to figures showing signing a significant number of constituents utilize the option when casting their ballots.

Pressure has mounted on Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed to push the lever’s elimination through her chamber of the legislature, and it does appear action is on the horizon. Paiva Weed plans to send the House version of the bill before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, giving that body another chance to consider and approve the measure.

Previously in this space, we have pointed to the lever’s elimination as being important both symbolically and practically. Bringing an end to straight-party voting would draw more attention to down-ballot and local races, force voters to take a fresh look at the individuals vying for particular positions and encourage new voices to step forward as candidates. It would also increase the number of votes cast in those races, since those voting on a straight-party line sometimes unintentionally neglect some contests.

These developments would ultimately help produce election results that more fully reflect public will, which is at the very heart of our democratic ideal.

The change may encourage those who have become disengaged because of cynicism or apathy to become involved in the political process. It would also send an important signal to the business community and those outside Rhode Island. The name “master lever,” after all, carries significant symbolic weight in a state that, fairly or not, is often associated with cronyism and corruption.

The time has come to eliminate the master lever. We urge the Senate to take the final step toward doing so.


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