Why master lever abolition should fail, for now

ML pic pulledAbout a month ago, Common Cause RI Executive Director John Marion wrote a great piece here on RI Future explaining exactly why the single party option (aka the “master lever” or SPO) on Rhode Island’s voting ballots is a bad idea, citing a 2006 study by researchers at the Universities of Maryland and Rochester that demonstrated it produced confusion for voters over the age of 75, less educated voters, and black voters (the study was less confident in the assertion that SPO produces undervotes, where a person didn’t select a candidate for a race). It’s pretty clear that abolishing the single party option would end that confusion at the polls.

So why should the push to end this miserable state of affairs fail? Because it’s not about voter enfranchisement. Well, for Common Cause it is. If we really wanted voter enfranchisement, we’d talk about things like ending elections on a working Tuesday and moving them to the weekend or making Election Day a paid holiday. We’d see a push from the same forces howling about the “master lever” for early voting. Or automatic mail ballots. Or automatic voter registration. Perhaps they’d even being calling for campaign finance reform. Or instant run-off voting to end the first-past-the-post system that currently allows people who win only a third of the electorate to become governor. Or lowering the bar to become a political party.

Common Cause advocates for a lot of those things; but Common Cause isn’t necessarily making the headlines. We’ve seen Ken Block ask questions like “do we really want uninformed people voting?” Yes! The answer to that question is always an emphatic yes! Everyone should vote, and if you can’t get everyone, get most of the people. Right now, to win an election, you only have to win a plurality of a minority. We’re seeing pie-in-the-sky conservatives rally for this, even though it’s not going to solve their issue of being generally unelectable.

Abolishing a ballot option that causes voter confusion isn’t what makes good government. Good government is the kind of government that is responsive to people who don’t necessarily have the time to make the talk show circuits and write press releases. The master lever should be abolished when the issue is not just a vehicle for a single person to gain media coverage, but when it’s part of a full-scale overhaul of elections aimed at making this a government where all voices are heard.

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A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

4 responses to “Why master lever abolition should fail, for now”

  1. patrick

    “The master lever should be abolished when the issue is not just a vehicle for a single person to gain media coverage,”
    Wow. So this is personal, Sam? If this wasn’t Ken Block behind it, you’d be in favor of it? So if Ken block *doesn’t* run for Governor, you’d agree with him? It seems that’s part of what you’re saying. 
    That’s not a very principled stand.

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  2. Barry

    I agree with Patrick, Ken Block is not the issue though we should thank for him for his efforts to publicize the issue, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with him also trying to call attention to the Moderate party in so doing.   Its not just Ken,  all concerned with good government including Common Cause, OCG, the Sec of State, Abel Collins,  etc etc  My involvement is familiarity with the confusion it caused when I was a Board of Elections employee going to nursing homes to help people vote.  Lets get it done and get this issue behind us.

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  3. jasonpbecker

    For any policy in the set of “good policy” there exists some people who will benefit from that policy and some who will not.
    It does not follow that support from those who would benefit from any particular good “policy” renders that policy “bad” policy.
    All the talk of motives and the nature of what benefits and other possible benefits (or lack thereof) of other policies is obfuscation. Unless there is serious dispute that this policy is a “good” policy, you’re politicizing in the worst way. In fact, the politicization of this issue and borderline ad hominem attacks on Ken Block has only made it more likely he will be the recipient of even greater benefit than he would have if the policy just past with the broad base of good government suport that exists for the change.
    This whole debate about Ken Block instead of the master lever makes the Rhode Island progressive community look guilty as the US Congress at placing petty politicking over pretty mundane, reasonable policy issues.

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  4. Moderate

    The hypocrisy of ideologically driven policy
    Samuel G. Howard makes the case that although the Master Lever “produced confusion for voters over the age of 75, less educated voters, and black voters” that the RI General Assembly should not eliminate the Master Lever at this time because I (Ken Block) am a primary advocate (but far from the ONLY advocate) for the effort to eliminate the Master Lever.
    Mr. Howard is prepared to continue confusing and disenfranchising a constituency that the Progressive movement is dedicated to helping because someone that he is not ideologically in synch with is a proponent of ending this disenfranchisement.
    It is this kind of partisan and ideologically driven public policy that brings us the dysfunction that infests Washington DC today.
    This hypocrisy should in no way cause a continuation of the electoral harm that disadvantaged voters experience courtesy of the flawed design of the Rhode Island ballot.
    Howard’s petty vindictiveness and juvenile logic is exactly what Rhode Island does not need when trying to address the large set of problems currently facing our state.
     
     
     
     

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