Ken Block's latest foray into outer political space

Apr 10, 2013

Are Ken Block’s 15 minutes of master lever fame up yet? Block, founder of the Moderate Party, losing 2010 gubernatorial candidate, computer genius and self-appointed political gadfly, has been campaigning relentlessly for an end to the master lever in Rhode Island elections.

Block has advanced a plethora of  reasons, many of them simple good-government ideas that likely resonate with a large slice of voters. He also pushes the yahoo side, weaving in corruption, the state’s economy and shadowy State House dealings by pols elected due to voter ignorance/master lever machinations.

His latest salvo is today’s blast at House Speaker Gordon Fox. Fox won an easy reelection last fall after a vigorous challenge from independent Mark Binder, a onetime puppet master and Quixotic political challenger. (Binder once ran against Patrick Kennedy for Congress).

Now Block is suggesting that Fox won because of the master lever, which isn’t actually a lever (the state got rid of voting machines years ago) but allows a voter to cast a straight party ballot by connecting one line on a printed ballot.

``Block said the results of the District 4 state representative race between Fox and independent Mark Binder last November show that master lever votes quite possibly made the difference in keeping the speaker from being unseated,’’ Block said in a statement.

As evidence, Block states that Fox won the election by 995 votes, which is less than the 1,469 straight ticket Democratic votes in the speaker’s district.

Now for reality: the reason Fox waltzed against an independent who wasn’t going to win is because neither the Republicans nor the Moderate Party ran a credible candidate against the speaker.

Is the reason the Republicans can’t win down-ballot elections on the East Side of Providence really due to the master lever. If so, how come electable GOP candidates in these same neighborhoods won state representative and city council races when there actually was machine voting with a master lever. Cases in point: Fred Lippitt, the longtime House Minority Leader, and Mac Farmer, longtime City Councilor, routinely won elections on the East Side because they were respected by constituents and responsive  to their needs.

One of the reasons there were so many straight-party votes in Rhode Island in 2012 is that in so many districts there was a dearth of  palatable alternatives to Democratic candidates. This was true from the White House to the State House and down to town councils and school committees. Why should an informed voter waste his or her time filling out an entire ballot when there are no credible candidates to split a ticket for?

Rhode Island has a long history of splitting tickets and electing candidates of either major party when they have good choices. Isn’t it up to Republicans and Moderates to give us such candidates?

It is amusing that Block doesn’t bring up the voting problems in District 4 that really frosted voters there last November – the ridiculously long lines faced by voters shivering in the cold to perform the bedrock function of a democracy. Maybe wasting voter time checking photo i.d. and not having a decent early voting regime in Rhode Island is a bigger problem than the master lever. Unless, of course, you are founder of a fledgling party looking for an excuse for why you have barely any electable candidates willing to run for office.