Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona's future looks at civic engagement. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has served our country her entire life, but as producer Shana Fischer reports Justice O'Connor is calling on others to do their civic duty.
Sandra Day O'Connor: Arizona's 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 Fischer: It's an experience 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. Sara Suggs is its CEO.
Sara Suggs: O'Connor house is a nonprofit organization founded by justice Sandra Day O'Connor to help solve important social, economic, and political problems through civil dialogue and civic action.
Shana Fischer: 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 with that is the notion that every one of us as citizens in our community needs to feel they're a part of it and that they will vote when there are things to vote on, and that they'll discuss things with fellow citizens where citizens' opinions matter.
Shana Fischer: And 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, eligible citizens to register to vote, become informed and vote.
Shana Fischer: As we head into the election cycle this year, the numbers are on the upswing. But she is quick to add there is more work to do when it comes to getting people to the polls.
Sara Suggs: Apathy and some frustration with citizens' disgust, in some cases, current state of affairs, and sometimes people just want to throw their hands up and they give up. And they can't. Because only the vote, the vote of the people will change the course of action, change leadership is necessary, at any given level. And make a difference. Not voting is really through an act of omission, letting the collective greater good down.
Shana Fischer: 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 believes 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, the 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: Arizona primary election is August 26th. Early voting is already underway. For more information on the O'Connor house, visit oconnorhouse.org.
Ted Simons: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll hear why ASU was chosen to design and operate a camera system for Mars -- NASA's Mars mission. That and more and on the next "Arizona Horizon."
Ted Simons: That it is for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.