The following is a letter to the editor.
At the March 4th Middletown Town Council meeting, I introduced and the Council approved, four to three, a resolution asking the Rhode Island Legislature to eliminate straight party (Master Lever) voting in all general elections.
In the November 2013 election, 1,000 straight ticket votes were cast in Middletown for Democrats and 413 for Republicans. This means that I and all other Democrats received as many as 1,000 votes just for being Democrats. Although I certainly appreciated the votes, I would have preferred votes based on my positions on issues, my character, my previous service to Middletown, or for another considered reason.
Middletowners cast 124 votes for the Moderate Party although there were no Moderate Party Candidates on the Middletown ballot. Those votes mattered. Only 115 votes separated the 5th place candidate (me) from the 8th (former Councilor Ed Silveira).
Of special concern to Middletown voters, single party voting distorts results for the non-partisan Middletown School Committee, with no votes registered for candidates unless the voter specifically marked the ballot for that candidate. The results? Under-voting for this important non-partisan election.
In my view, single party voting tends to diminish thoughtful voting, substituting party loyalty for careful deliberation of local issues. Single party voting results in votes for candidates whose names and qualifications may be completely unknown to the voter, corrupting the cornerstone of citizenship, an informed electorate.
Currently only 15 states retain straight party voting. The overriding characteristic of these states is domination of the political process by a single party. Straight ticket voting is a vestige of machine politics which helps to preserve that dominance.
Rhode Island need not be grouped with those few states that retain single party voting where ideology overrules careful consideration of individual issues and the character and beliefs of candidates. If Rhode Island has one defining characteristic, it is our independent and sometimes contrary nature. Straight party voting is the absolute antithesis of Rhode Island freethinking.
My experience in local politics is that party affiliation generally has little or nothing to do with electing a good Town Councilor or any other elected position. As we all have seen at the national level, highly partisan politics is the poison that kills good governance.
In discussion prior to the vote on my resolution, I asked that Middletown join 24 other Rhode Island towns and cities, the Rhode Island Board of Elections, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, General Treasurer, and Chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties in expressing our support for the elimination of straight party voting from general elections.
I hope you will join me, these towns and cities and state elected officials in urging our state legislators to end straight party voting.
Richard P. Adams
Middletown Town Council