Senate panel backs plan to kill ‘master lever’

The Rhode Island State House.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Islanders against the so-called “master lever” option for voters in local elections enjoyed a victory Thursday, as a panel of lawmakers approved a bill that would eliminate it.

The “master lever” refers to a voter’s option to check a single box in order to cast a vote for every candidate affiliated with a specific party. Rhode Island is the only state in New England, and one of just 13 states nationwide, that still employs the single-party voting option. Critics of the straight-ticket voting option believe it confuses voters and can lead to unfair, undemocratic elections.

Now, legislation that would eliminate the controversial option has made it through another State House step.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill to kill straight-ticket voting. The Senate panel’s vote came just more than a month after the House unanimously passed a similar bill.

The Senate bill calls for the master lever to be eliminated in 2015, meaning the single-party box would still be on ballots during this November’s major general elections. Senate committee members said the state needed time to educate voters who might be confused by the change.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor. If it passes through the Senate, it will be sent back to the House and then to whomever is occupying the governor’s office for final approval.

During Tuesday night’s WPRI 12 / Providence Journal debate, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Clay Pell, Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras all said they support eliminating the master lever.


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