Arizona’s Future: Civic Engagement, O’Connor House

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After serving on the highest court in the land, former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor continues her commitment to service with the O’Connor House, which seeks to help increase voting rates. Find out what she has to say about her efforts to increase voting.

Ted Simons: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has served the country her entire life, but as producer Shana Fischer supports, Justice O'Connor is calling on others to do their civic duty.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Arizona is a great state. I love it. I grew up in a remote area on the east side of the state, and on a ranch that was very remote. On election day there, we had to drive over 30 miles to get to the nearest polling place where we could vote.

Shana Fisher: It's an experience that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has never forgotten, and one that would carry her to the highest court in the land as the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice. In 2009, three years after retiring from the court, the Justice started O'Connor House. Sarah Suggs is the CEO.

Sara Suggs: O'Connor House is a nonprofit organization that was founded by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to solve important social, economic, and political problems through civil dialogue and civic action.

Shana Fisher: Under the watchful eye of the Justice, O'Connor House tackles four key issues. Among them civic responsibility.

Sandra Day O'Connor: We talk about the term, civic engagement, and I think what we're meaning when we talk about that is the notion that every one of us as citizens in our community needs to feel they are a part of it, and that they will vote when there are things to vote on. And that they will discuss things with fellow citizens. Opinions matter.

Shana Fisher: Where those opinions matter the most, Suggs says, is in the voting booth. In 2012, after learning about the dismal voter turnout in Arizona, O'Connor House launched the great voter challenge.

Sara Suggs: We ranked 45th in the nation, which is really a very disappointing number, particularly, that it was a presidential election year, which normally has a higher turnout than average. So, in discussing this with Justice O'Connor, we realized that this is simply not acceptable, and we have to do something about it. So, the great voter challenge was such that we not one, issued the challenge to all Arizonans, eligible citizens to register to vote, become informed and vote.

Shana Fisher: As we head into the election cycle this year, Suggs says the numbers are on the upswing, but she's quick to add that there is more work to do when it comes to getting people to the polls.

Sara Suggs: Apathy and some frustration with citizens, discussed, in some cases, the current state of affairs, and sometimes, people just want to throw their hands up, and they give up. They can't. Because only the votes of the votes of the people are going to change the course of "A," change leadership if necessary, at any given level, and make a difference. So, not voting is really through an active omission letting the collective, greater good down.

Shana Fisher: Justice O'Connor is hopeful for Arizona's future when it comes to civic responsibility. Strong words from a woman who made some of the biggest decisions for our country, but who believe the greatest decisions are made by the people.

Sandra Day O'Connor: It matters to me, and it should matter to all of us. We get to pick our leaders at the local level, town council. We get to pick our county officials. We get to pick our state legislators and our Governor. The state officials, and we're so lucky as citizens to get to do that. And so our job, I think, as adults is to encourage all our neighbors and friends to vote, to encourage everyone to vote when they have the opportunity so that it's a collective decision we all make when we select our leaders.

Ted Simons: For more information on the O'Connor House visit o'connorhouse.org.

Sandra Day O'Connor - Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice; Sarah Suggs - CEO O'Connor House

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