November 18, 2008

Most Agree: Straight Party Option is Bad

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's Ed Achorn used some of my data in his latest column in which he explains why the straight-party vote option in the Rhode Island is a stumbling block towards a two-party state.

This scheme...gets pernicious...farther down the ballot, in legislative races with lesser-known candidates. Minus the straight-ticket option, many voters who are ignorant of those candidates and their issues would leave those races blank, letting more knowledgeable voters decide the matter. With the option, voters blindly sweep into office candidates they’ve never heard of.
Rep. David Segal "tend[s] to support getting rid of the straight-ticket lever," but thinks Achorn is blaming all of the GOP woes on the SPV option and observes that most of the legislature would have gone Democrat without all SPV option votes anyway. True, but I don't think Achorn is blaming it all on the SPV, just pointing out that it is but one of the stumbling blocks to having a two-party state, which even George Nee supports (if with a wink). Besides, if a party is built from the bottom up, then it's not at the Legislative level--where Segal focuses--but at the school committee and town council level where candidates cut their teeth. As I've shown, Republicans and especially Independents are really outgunned when faced by the SPV option in such local, down-ticket contests.

TPublico, a contributor at RI Future, has also run the numbers (in more detail than me) and is similarly against the SPV option. He also notes of his fellow RI Futurites:’s no wonder that some on this site don’t see a problem with straight ticket voting because though it’s true that Dems hold a significant edge on the SPV, it’s the so called “Progressive” candidates that lead the pack in SPV averages in the precincts and districts that they run in. Or maybe that’s a consequence of going door-to-door, or making phone calls, or sending out literature to vote “straight democrat”. But to push something as undemocratic as straight party voting on a voter goes against the very principles of elections because it’s no longer a person running for office – it’s a party that is… it’s a political party whose qualities are considered - and not a person. This is more than one party against another party, and how their strategies differ as to how they take advantage of the master level. This is about a voter putting into office a qualified candidate, not a vanilla version of some party principles.
A comment by Matt Jerzyk to TPublico's post provides proof to this point:
Well...we ran a kick-ass "vote straight Democrat" campaign in South Providence and I am glad to see that it worked.

Reps. Almeida, Diaz and Slater received 3/4 of their votes through straight Democratic voting.

Never underestimate the power of an organized electorate!

Matt also responded to Segal's post on the topic:
The bottom line is that the RI Republican Party is horrible at the basics of running a party:

1) identifying candidates
2) raising money
3) training candidates
4) running a GOTV program.

If and when they get to a point when they can do 1-4, then we can talk about systematic "hurdles" to getting elected.

Baby steps, RIGOP, baby steps.

So whether or not the SPV is unfair is only relevant if certain conditions are met by the party out of power? This is all just smoke-and-mirrors meant to convey "open-mindedness" to the idea of abolishing the SPV option whilst trying to make it impossible to affect by creating arbitrary milestones. Setting aside the "who" and "how" of determining when the milestones outlined have been reached, explain to me how these would apply to an Independent candidate? No, there will be no push to abolish the SPV option by those currently in the political majority, no matter their rhetoric. Fairness is relative, after all, especially if it may impede the maintenance of raw power.

ADDENDUM: The NEA's Bob Walsh has weighed in:

The greatest this entire debate is that the elimination of straight party voting empowers the groups that Achorn dislikes the most, as down-ballot candidates will be more, not less, dependent on the grassroots get out the vote efforts they (we) bring to the table.
Fine, let's get rid of it and let the vaunted grassroots do their thing. But I think that both Walsh and some commenters, including Matt J. and "Greg", are using Achorn's column as an excuse to gloss over the MAIN point that both TPublico and I are trying to pound. The SPV option should go because it enables so-called machine, party-over-person politics.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Perhaps Rep. Segal should talk to Jeff Toste from the Green Party and see whats he thinks about SPV.

Its not just an RIGOP problem.

Posted by: Ren at November 18, 2008 10:32 AM

Posted by: Ren at November 18, 2008 11:04 AM

Having been witness to this, I can unequivocally say that Jeff Toste lost 2 state senate campaigns because he did not run a good race.

Independents and third party candidates can and have won in Rhode Island (see O'Neill or Cianci or Segal for that matter).

But you have to know how to run a winning campaign, if you are going to do it.

And simply putting your name on the ballot doesn't mean you have a chance of winning!

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at November 18, 2008 11:30 AM

I feel so dirty...

Matt is right. While the SPV is a problem, it's not the fatal flaw in the RIGOP's operation. The problem is the lack of a platform that doesn't involve actively hating gays. The problem is that they've successfully been painted as 'anti-immigrant' and have done virtually nothing to combat that. The problem is that the GOP is simply out of touch at EVERY level.

Posted by: Greg at November 18, 2008 12:13 PM

To Matt:

I know of campaigns where the Democrat who won would not have won with all the SPV removed. Take a look at your own Senate Majority Leader's race. He won by 800 votes. He won the SPV vote by 1200. It's not all about running a winning campaign when more people specifically vote for one candidate and that candidate does not end up winning.

If the problem really is that the GOP isn't running good candidates or good campaigns, then you shouldn't be opposed to removing the SPV system. All your candidates will still win, right? So what's the problem? If the GOP is only running bad candidates against your great candidates, then you'll still win. So, you on board?

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2008 12:17 PM

SPV played a major role in getting the Democratic piece of dreck that is my state senator re-elected. I'm dying for good GOP and independent candidates here in N. Providence, but this town would elect a piece of lint if it had a "D" stenciled on it in November.

Posted by: rhody at November 18, 2008 3:38 PM

Whatsamatta Rhody-not enough Italian curse words available(just kidding)?
BTW to get the full import say "shtick dreck".Want the Spanish cognate?"Mojon".Often used when referring to my sister in law's former husband. :))
It would've been nice if Spaziano had circulated a flyer with her positions.I think we're neighbors.

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 18, 2008 4:41 PM

Matt, if it really is all about the campaign, then why did David Segal switch to Democrat when he decided to run for a state representative position? Wouldn't a Segal victory as a Green have been very unlikely?

Posted by: mikeinRI at November 18, 2008 7:13 PM

"If the problem really is that the GOP isn't running good candidates or good campaigns, then you shouldn't be opposed to removing the SPV system. All your candidates will still win, right? So what's the problem?"

Yes, indeed. In fact, let's broaden that question out to everyone who supports the straight-party lever.

Posted by: Monique at November 18, 2008 10:00 PM

Joe, say what you want about Spaziano's campaign (she did indeed need to be a little more aggressive). I'm just tired of Rubbers Ruggerio and his $170K high union muckety-muck butt getting a free pass while any other Democratic official with any ties to unions at all gets attacked.
It really makes me wonder whether Ruggerio is "connected," and therefore gets "respect" in this forum.

Posted by: rhody at November 19, 2008 12:52 AM

I concur with Patrick -- if it doesn't matter, why do we have it? Because, it matters a whole lot towards keeping that status quo, and discouraging challengers from running, that's why. We still have it to perpetuate one-party corrupt rule in Rhode Island. If you were in the minority party for 70 years, you might think differently.

Let's get something straight, the GOP doesn't "run" anything. With very few exceptions, they generally leave candidates to fend for themselves. Given some of the help they've given, that might not necessarily be a bad thing. About the one thing I give them credit for is setting expectations of assistance appropriately (i.e. very low).

It's hard to convince good GOP candidates to run for office, when they're being asked to run a race where they are forced to spend most of their early efforts just trying to level the playing field to even have a fighting chance.

The other "problem" is that [generally speaking] GOP candidates are not backed by the special interests groups who will dedicate volunteers and financial support towards their campaign, so they are also expected to rely on their own financial resources in a way that incumbents don't have to. They generally run for office, because they think they can make a difference for the better, not because they're in it for themselves or their employer. Unfortunately, IF they ever manage to get elected, they quickly find that they can't, because the system is stacked against good people (I wasn't trying to sound pessimistic).

As I recently told a fairly discouraged non-first time GOP legislative candidate who raised 5 figure cash and ran a great race, walked the district multiple times, but still ended up losing, "in Rhode Island, as a Republican, you can run the 'perfect' campaign and still lose. It's not your fault." It wasn't his fault, it was ours. Much of that has to do with SPV (and in that particular race, SPV was definitely the main factor). Unfortunately, when races are very close, as they often tend to be in RI, the individual merits of the candidates are not the deciding factor. The deciders are the non-thinking voters.

I can fully understand that "token" GOP candidates (which I'd say are about half), don't really deserve to win, and rarely ever do. However, when you have real candidates who run real races, raise real money, put the shoe leather to the road, and still get trampled because of SPV, then it's very difficult to motivate other potential first time candidates to go give it a shot.

Posted by: Will at November 19, 2008 1:12 AM
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