Scarp: Don’t like Congress? Start voting — and keep voting - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Scarp: Don’t like Congress? Start voting — and keep voting

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

Posted: Saturday, October 5, 2013 12:55 pm

I know who’s ultimately at fault for the government shutdown. It isn’t the Democrats. It isn’t the Republicans.

It’s us.

Follow the trail of disgust and shame back from the current arm-waving standoff in Washington far enough and you’ll find at its start the overwhelming majority of registered voters, who were ultimately responsible, about seven in 10 of them.

Are you one of these people? You are if you have not been voting in primary elections every two years. This column pointed out in August 2012 the connection between poor primary voter turnout and the kind of elected members of Congress (or the Legislature) we get. Unfortunately, that view has come into its own this past week, far more than I imagined then.

So now that you’re really steamed at me for handing you the blame for the government shutdown, I’ll explain why there’s truly no one else … even though some voters will continue to say so anyway:

First off, anemic showings at the polls are not recent phenomena. The primary voter turnout in Arizona has ranged from only about 23 percent to about 30 percent going back to at least 2006, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. We’ve been able to vote by early ballots delivered to our home mailboxes for years now, but that convenience hasn’t done much to increase primary turnouts.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office website, 28 percent of registered Arizona voters cast ballots in the primary election of 2012. And 30.1 percent of them cast ballots in 2010’s.

Both of these elections were held after a decision to move primaries to August, which, contrary to what some may think, resulted in higher turnouts than when they were held in September.

In 2008, when the election was held on Sept. 2, it was 22.8 percent. And the 2006 primary on Sept. 12 had a 23.1 percent turnout.

As I pointed out two summers ago, the three in 10 who do vote in primaries are usually what are called “highly motivated,” with firmly held views that tend to be at the far ends of the political spectrum. And independent voters, even though they’re eligible to participate in primaries, have turnouts that are usually in the single digits, because primaries are examples of why they don’t want to be party members.

So what results? Democratic nominees who are much more liberal than typical Democrats and Republican nominees who are much more conservative than typical Republicans.

This sets up with increasing frequency the nasty, antagonistic war of broadcast advertising in our elections. When you’re way out there, you regard anyone to your left or right, respectively, to be not someone with whom you respectfully disagree, but as just short of the devil himself.

And you look to bring your message to folks to think the way you do, those who are least likely to avoid voting because who gets elected is, again, a holy crusade to keep Us in power and deny Them anything, lest our republic head down the road to, well, see the reference to the devil in the previous sentence.

Once all of Congress is elected, is it any surprise that they behave the way they do? To modify the words of “Star Wars’” Governor Tarkin, “Compromise? In our moment of triumph?”

A national poll from Quinnipiac Universitythis week reports more than 70 percent of respondents opposing the federal government shutdown, but Congress isn’t beholden to most of those people, but are to more to the approximately one in four who responded that think it should go on as a means to meet ideological objectives.

So if you find yourself craving sanity and reason recently, well, that’s not what you voted for.

The only solution, unfortunately, is going to take a while. It took years to get into this situation and it will take years to get out. Start by voting in primaries after careful consideration of issues and candidates, choosing those who know how to think and act based on what is before them to manage, not who have already figured it all out before the problems even arise.

The higher turnouts won’t help much in the first primary or two, where the same usual polarized candidates will be on the ballot. But those higher numbers of less knee-jerk voters from both left and right — and more of those from the middle where poll after poll indicates that most of us are — will bring out the less-extreme candidates.

Unfortunately, these candidates are virtually non-existent today. Can you blame them? Reasoned solutions aren’t nearly as interesting to “highly motivated” voters as pitched ideological battles.

As of this past week, the score is Pitched Ideological Battles 50, Reasoned Solutions 0.

• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at

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