Scarp: Right to vote means obligation to research - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Scarp: Right to vote means obligation to research

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Posted: Thursday, October 2, 2008 8:42 pm | Updated: 10:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Since early ballots for the Nov. 4 election were first mailed Thursday, some of us may be receiving them as soon as today.

Whenever a big election looms, my usual concern about voters knowing enough to make sound decisions at the ballot box rises enough in my head to make me reach for aspirin.

Voting has become a tougher final exam to study for in this country. But as voting has certainly become more convenient, has citizenship's highest duty become something we're prepared to stay up late doing extra homework for?

Compared to 2006, this year voting in Arizona will likely take much less time.

Then, Arizonans faced an all-time record 19 ballot propositions. This year there are only eight.

Substitute those 11 ballot questions you won't have to bring in your crib sheet for this year with local candidates.

For the first time ever in Scottsdale, we are picking a mayor and three City Council members in the fall.

Well, actually, it's the second time ever. We tried in September to do it for the first time, but nobody received a majority.

This forced a runoff next month, which means Scottsdale voters either like virtually everybody on the ballot or they don't like certain candidates enough.

Americans have the freest elections in the world, but we don't have the most knowledgeable electorate.

I'm not talking about knowledge that will lead a voter to back one candidate over another or one ballot question over another.

That's the advanced exam, which we walk right in to take often without having scored all that well on the basic skills test.

Nor is such a test on current events "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno routinely lampoons people with in his "Jaywalking" segment. We're talking fundamentals, the easy stuff.

Two in five Americans, I learned recently, don't know what the three branches of our federal government are. (Executive, legislative and judicial, that is, the president, Congress and the courts.)

And a 2007 survey of more than 1,000 people scientifically, randomly selected Americans by the First Amendment Center (margin of error of 3.2 percent) found that fewer than two out of three of us knows that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech.

After that, knowledge of the amendment's other freedoms drops dramatically: Only 19 percent know it protects the freedom of religion and only 16 percent know it protects the freedom of the press.

On Thursday morning, a local TV station asked some people some basic questions from the test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. Most had trouble with, "What is the supreme law of the land?" (the Constitution.)

This isn't about insisting that people pass a test in order to vote, as that solution is greater than the problem itself.

But it's enough to give you pause when you consider what most likely goes into all kinds of people's decisions about whom to elect to public office or what proposed laws to pass.

Grown-ups don't like to do their homework any more than children do, but - what is it that we tell our kids? - it's important for your future.


Read Mark Scarp's blog, Scarpsdale, at

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