For years Common Cause Rhode Island has advocated for eliminating the straight party option (or "master lever") on the Rhode Island ballot. We have long suspected that the use of the so-called master lever was a problem for Rhode Island voters. The option of casting a ballot for all partisan races with a single mark, while seemingly convenient, we suspected to result in a severe undervote for nonpartisan races. Numerous cities and towns have councils and school committees that run without party labels. When using the master lever we suspect thousands of voters are skipping right over those races, causing what is referred to as an undervote.
Until recently we could not prove that this was happening. Rhode Island does not allow access to voted ballots, despite several access to public records attempts on our part. Fortunately several leading political scientists looked at the impact of ballot design, and specifically the presence of the straight party option on the ballot, and confirmed our suspicions. As they write, "Voters who use a straight-party option have fewer unintentional undervotes for partisan offices, especially when multiple candidates are to be selected, but they commit as many or more errors of omission in nonpartisan races." [emphasis added]*
So now we know definitively, the presence of the master lever on our ballot injures Rhode Island voters, and thus our democratic system. So what can you do? Join the movement to eliminate the master lever by signing up at masterlever.org and contacting your members of the General Assembly.
*Herrnson, Paul, Michael Hanmer, Richard Niemi. 2012. The Impact of Ballot Type on Voter Errors. American Journal of Political Science
Office: Common Cause Rhode Island