How Politicians Deliberately Confuse Voters

An op-ed story that never ran and should have

I vote in every election when I can. As a registered Independent, I cannot vote in party primaries, but I can vote “Yes” or “No” on Charter amendment questions.

Not this time.

Three questions were on the ballot. I found them so incomprehensible—and I got so pissed off—I banged out an op-ed piece for the Inquirer.

It relates directly to my new book, Write Everything Right! and a quote by the great New York editor, Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936): “Good writing is easier to read than to skip.”

I scoured the Inquirer website looking for the address of the op-ed or “letters to the editor” person.

No dice.

I emailed the piece to a writer I know on the paper and asked him to 1) forward this to the right person or 2) give me the email address so I can send it off.

Never heard back.

Here’s the piece that never ran and damn well should have.

Philadelphia Politicians Practicing Discrimination Against All Voters

About the March 20, 2014 Ballot

It is impossible to make an informed decision regarding the three questions on the March 20, 2014 ballot.

To do so, a voter needs a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in English and a J.D. (Juris Doctor—law degree). No kidding.

Quick Backgrounder on U.S. Literacy

• 44 million adults are now unable to read a simple story to their children
• 50 percent of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level

• 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level —
National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, U.S. Census Bureau
• “Nearly half of all Americans read so poorly that they cannot find a single piece of information when reading a short publication.”
UNESCO, Institute for Statistics

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Peter Rosenwald

    Dare I say it again? [5 words]

    With increasing velocity we are slipping down a slope to total illiteracy, a linguistic Hades in which the only language will be tweets. [23 words]

    If followed to its natural conclusion, your admirable caution to avoid long sentences just because the 45% to 50% of the dummies out there will not understand them takes us further towards the land of tweets. [36 words]

    The trouble with those inane Charter Amendment Questions is, to repeat an old saw – ‘it is not the size, its the quality that matters’, that they were obviously composed by a committee including but not limited to incompetent lawyers for whom ‘quality of content’ was not a defining factor. [49 words: getting to the edge]

    Incidentally, despite a good ivy league degree in English, I had to look up ‘Debarment’ being unfamiliar to me . [19 words] I felt better when I saw this in the look-up: "Debarment matters are unique and unfamilar (sic) to most in both government and private sectors. Even a business or criminal defense attorney can lack understanding." [35 words].

    However infuriating, our job should be clear and illuminating writing, not caving in to the law of the lowest common dumbnominator. [21 words]

  • Tim Orr

    Once, I was sitting in a script meeting for a video I was to produce. The client thought it would be a good idea to have its inside counsel write the script. I told the assembled group that the script was incomprehensible. The attorney who had written it slammed his fist on the table and shouted, "We can’t sacrifice accuracy for the sake of clarity!" Several people started laughing. The attorney was outraged, and demanded to know what was so funny.

  • David

    It looks like the Inquirer dropped its op-ed page last fall – to the editor’s credit, he fought the change but ultimately was outranked. Here’s an article discussing the change:
    What a sad state of affairs this is…

  • Peg Shafer

    The first one is a pisser.
    Obviously lawyers obfuscating.


  • Kathleen Poole

    Just vote no. How hard can that be?

  • Donnie Bryant


    (Side note: some business websites aren’t much better when it comes to readability. Of course, you already knew that.)

  • cfxiam

    Couldn’t agree more. Writing is a form of communication. So, communicate clearly.

  • Debs

    Quite honestly, Denny, you’ve hit the nail on the head!!! [10 words]
    Government is so far into our homes and lives working diligently to "dumb down" the very citizens who vote them into office! [22 words]
    They should be ashamed of themselves. [6 powerful words!!]
    Sentence structure should be, at the very least, decipherable and as we know, using vague language such as "council considers necessary", and "potential" anything opens the door to more government empowerment! [31 words]
    With that said, I do not have either law degree or PhD, however, after re-reading and dissecting each of the three questions, which took me almost 15 minutes, all should be a "No" answer. [ah-ha 34 words!]
    Politics and politicians…wish just once they would truly and honestly work diligently for the common good! [16 words]
    Last but not least, as authors we know it’s not HOW MANY words are used; its HOW they are used that matters! [22 words]
    Thank you for letting me vent! [6 more powerful words!!]
    A grand total of 147 words used in 8 sentences; averaging 18 words per sentence. Not bad! 😉