Election 2012

Errol Morris Wants You to Vote. You Probably Shouldn't.


Super-famous documentary filmmaker Errol Morris wants you to vote. And he made a mini-documentary about it for The New York Times

Here it is:

11 reasons not to vote

Give Morris-as-documentarian credit: He perfectly captures the vague jumble of reasons that actually drive people to (or away from) the polls on Election Day. Click and watch as a charming group of unconventionally attractive young people ramble on about voting for 7 minutes at the behest of the director of The Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and The Fog of War.

But Morris-as-voting-advocate gets a much lower score: Glossy videos showing purposeful celebrities making grand statements are a better bet for increasing voter turnout.

Below, an attempt at a taxonomy of the video's arguments:

* One gal in fashionably large glasses speculates about whether the likelihood that you will meet the love of your life at the ballot box cancels out the likelihood that you will kill someone in an auto accident on your way there. Another girl says she'd sell her vote for $150. Let's call this half-baked utilitarianism, where the decision to vote hinges on the likelihood of certain outcomes. This thinking is also at work in the tale of the overseas Floridian, who failed to cast her vote in that critical state in 2000 and has will be "spending the rest of my life making up for that."

* A dude in an orange sweater says he is voting to honor his African-American grandmother, who wasn't able to vote in Virginia until she was 43. He wants to "serve her legacy." He is essentially an expressive voter—someone who votes because it feels good, or to make a claim (to himself or others) about the kind of person he is. A grey t-shirt guy makes this explicit, saying: "It's just a way of making yourself happy." The same is true for the guy who wants to "stick it to The Man" or the gal who called voting "a cheap thrill."

* Quite a few people expressed qualms about the disappointing options, their own "clean hands" qualms, a principle posited by Georgetown ethicist Jason Brennan, in which "one should not participate in collectively harmful activities when the cost of refraining from such activities is low." If all the candidates are unappealing ("like a wasteland with smog everywhere and dead birds falling out of the sky"), mightn't it be better not to vote?

your vote doesn't count

Here's Morris' account of his own case for voting:

The arguments against voting have been persuasive to many Americans. But what about the flip side? Why bother? Here I think the arguments are better. War and peace. Equal rights for women and same-sex couples. My personal favorite, the balance of the Supreme Court. The prospect of meeting the love of your life at the polling place. Several people argued that if you don't vote, you lose your right to complain about the results of an election. But I respectfully disagree. In our society, the right to complain is even more fundamental than the right to vote.

I don't know what, in the end, forces me to vote. It could be fear; it could be guilt. Although my mother died over 10 years ago, I feel that she is watching me, and I don't want to disappoint her.


In the mood for some clarity and a handy debunking of the reasons Morris serves up against the reasons not to vote? Why not read my Reason cover story: "Your Vote Doesn't Count"?

NEXT: Former Dem Congressional Candidate Pleads Fifth in FEC Filing

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  1. Don’t put what looks like an embedded video in your posts that instead only links to the New York Times. That’s unethical.

    And people who brag about not voting are just as annoying as those who brag about their inane reasons for voting. Vote or don’t vote, but don’t force me to read about it by putting a post on your blog for me to voluntarily click.

    1. People who complain about people who brag about not voting being annoying are just as annoying as those who brag about their inane reasons for voting or not voting.

      But everybody’s pretty annoying in any case.

      1. Especially FoE.

        1. It’s annoyances all the way down.

    2. Vote or don’t vote, but don’t force me to read about it by putting a post on your blog for me to voluntarily click.

      Damn you, FoE, and your threadwinning snark!

  2. You talk about utilitarianism like it’s a bad thing. Utilitarianism has killed a lot fewer people in this world than ideology.

    1. I’m afraid utilitarianism with regards to voting leads to economic croynism.

      1. *”cronyism”

        1. I’m interested in this “croynism” of which you speak! Tell me more.

          1. So am I! I think it’s a good word, it just needs a definition.

            1. a definition AND a newsletter.

              1. Croy sounds like the name of an ancient pagen god. Either that or a new made up Black slang word.

    2. “What shall we do to maximize happiness?”

      “Create a state that ensures the basic needs of the people are provided for.”

      “And then?”

      “Nationalize the economy, purge the dissenters from our ranks, and expand the Motherland across the globe.”


      1. I wonder why no one’s tried this before?

    3. 1.) Utilitarianism is an ideology.

      2.) There’s nothing wrong with utilitarianism in itself, but it needs first principles to guide it, else it can lead to some ridiculous conclusions.

      3.) To add to FoE’s remarks, bragging about not voting it like bragging about not owning a TV. Good for you, now get over yourself.

      1. I don’t get it. Do people “brag” about not voting, or are they merely expressing their opinion/advocating a position.

        Would you say somebody was “bragging” when they said they voted for Obama, Romney, or Johnson?

        1. Depends on how they’re going about it. If they’re playing the usual “you vote for your right to complain” or “you’re going to let x candidate win!” sort of things, yes. Though that’s less bragging and more being an overbearing asshole.

          1. It’s not really bragging if someone isn’t implying that they’re better than everyone else.

            I would be happy if everybody were voting for Romney and I didn’t stand out so much, so I’m not bragging. I don’t want to be superior in that way.

    4. Tulpa says a lot of stuff.

      1. “But you always said-”

        “I always said many things.”

      2. What I would like to know is how Warty can call me bat shit insane when Tulpa exists?

        Does he have a chart showing degrees of bat shit insane?

        If so does it cross reference into a matrix with rapes?

    5. Utilitarianism or pragmatism? Because Utilitarianism can be seen as the ideology of “the greater good”; an ideology that has killed more people than the Mongols.

      1. That’s what I was thinking. Communism and Nazism were/are ideologies, but they aren’t predicated on faith (according to them). They claim to just reflect the reality of the world.

        If, purely for the sake of the example, it turns out all Jews really were conspiring to destroy the Pure White Race, and really did stab Germany in the back during WWI (positions which the Nazies held to be verifiable facts), then their attitude towards the Jews is perfectly utilitarian.

        1. Communism and Nazism were/are ideologies

          Nazism was pretty explicit in “government should kill people”

          Communism on the other hand…at least in its ideology does not explicitly call for the death of people.

          How is Stalin not the utilitarian of communist ideology?

          1. Ideology put Stalin in a position to do what he did, and helped him maintain it.

            You can’t really call what he did “utilitarian” unless everyone is a utilitarian.

            1. You are wrong and have moved the goal post but lets move on to Caesar.

              In the Gallic wars Caesar starts off as forgiving to the Gauls often letting warriors and leaders free as he tried to stop the perpetual wars engulfing all of Gaul. He followed the Roman ideology based on honor and justice. Making allegiances and agreements which he honors.

              As the 7 years of the book progress Caesar becomes less and less forgiving (the Gauls keep on raising up to war) abandoned honor and justice and in the final few years takes the utilitarian approach of simply enslaving and/or killing everyone who defied him…essentially turning all of Gaul into a grave yard.

              It is estimated that a million people died during the Gallic wars.

  3. Is that… thing up there in the first pic a dude or a chick? I honestly can’t tell. I think it’s a chick, but still. Is that the “gal in fashionably large glasses speculate[ing] about whether the likelihood that you will meet the love of your life at the ballot box cancels out the likelihood that you will kill someone in an auto accident on your way there”? The idea that that thing thinks there’s even the remote possibility of it meeting the love of its life anywhere speaks volumes about the futility of hope.

    1. I’m pretty sure it’s a dude. Generally best to err on the side of caution, anyway.

      1. Are you retarded? It’s clearly a muppet, and they have no genitals, so that makes it neuter.

        1. If you said it’s a woman, you’re sexist, because women are beautiful always. Only men can be ugly.

          1. I may not know what it is, but I do know it’s ugly. Real ugly.

            “You found me beautiful once.”

            “Honey, you got real ugly.”

    2. No matter how hideous or ugly a person is, they can find a mate.

      And that girl looks like Woody Allen, so at least one male on the planet similar to her.

      Mass murdering despots find mates, after all.

      1. Mass murdering despots find mates, after all.

        “Fuck me or I’ll rape you and then kill your entire family” tends to engender compliance. Not that I’d know anything about that.

        1. Well, you are a fairly violent Norse deity, so six of one…

    3. That pic screams New England Progressive ur-Chick. A a high school sophomore she interned working on the Dean campaign. The most influential book in her life is “Goodbye Columbus”. She is majoring in French literature. She thinks it’s wonderful that a black man is president, but couldn’t name one thing that black man has done while in office, other than provide free contraceptives to law students.

    4. I’d do it. I bet she’s a freak.

  4. It’s getting to the point where we’re getting hectored for not voting for one of the two candidates carefully chosen by the Ayatollah.

    Democracy is not the end, it’s the means. Why do these creative types constantly banter us about how the vote is the highest form of political expression? Especially when they’re veiled “get out the vote” messages for Obama.

    1. No, it’s not. Ron Paul was only 8 million votes shy of winning the Republican nomination, getting 2.0 million to 9.9 million for Romney. In a nation of 300+ million, that’s not that high of a hurdle. With the delegate selection rules, he probably only needed 2 or 3 million more. But it’s easier to sit back and say the system is controlled by shadowy forces.

      1. The system isn’t controlled by shadowy forces, I never suggested that. It’s controlled by voters who have bought into the two party narrative, and we’re exactly…carry the one… infinity miles from breaking that.

        I use California as my small example of to how people poll one way, and vote another.

  5. This thinking is also at work in the tale of the overseas Floridian, who failed to cast her vote in that critical state in 2000 and has will be “spending the rest of my life making up for that.”

    Her vote wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome, so what’s the big deal?

    1. Liberals have spent the past 12 years shaming those who didn’t vote in 2000. As a result, some feel the dysfunctional, compulsive need to vote or else “it could be another 2000 situation.”

      1. But that axe swings both ways. There were presumably lots of nonvoters who would have voted for Bush, but I don’t hear those same liberals congratulating those nonvoters for staying away from the pools.

        It’s an empty sentiment, equivalent to whining that not everybody votes for your candidate.

  6. I think the pro-voting campaigns are a way of getting more uninformed people to vote, and you know who they’re going to vote for.

    1. The pinko prick promising free shit at other people’s expense.

      Do I get a prize?

      1. Yes, the bill for all those people’s “free” shit.

      2. A coupon for the right to display a smug self-righteous smirk for up to one minute.

    2. The fundamental problem is that people view voting as an end itself rather than a means to an end. We should desire a society that maximizes individual liberty and equal justice under law. And yet we vote for scum politicians that promise free shit at the expense of other people while aggressively expanding the police and welfare state.

      I try to tell all my left-wing college friends that you’re much more powerful as a citizen in a jury box than you are with a ballot box and that democracy is vastly overrated.

      1. The fundamental problem is that people view voting as an end itself rather than a means to an end.

        The fundamental problem is that people think voting to steal someone else’s liberty or property is not theft.

        The fundamental problem is voting itself. No majority, no matter how large, should get to take away my rights if I am not harming someone else.

  7. Sorry Florida voters. Your vote or non vote did not matter. Your single vote would not have prevented what happened. Get over it. Your vote does not matter. Your vote does not matter.

    1. Sub count for matter. Bah.

  8. Only rich assholes would not sell their vote.

  9. Paging John: “One gal in fashionably large glasses”.

    1. He wrote glasses, not asses.

  10. Check out the giant doucher at 3:30. Get a real haircut you fucking hipster!!

  11. How about…

    If you’re not 21 you can go to jail for buying a beer, because you can’t handle the difficult decision of whether or not to drink a beer.

    You can’t buy a handgun because anyone under 21, no matter what their life situation and experience, is reckless and crazy.

    Until you’re 26, you’re a child by the decree of Obamacare.

    But while you are too stupid and/or crazy to drink a beer, or to buy a handgun, you are certainly sane and mature enough to figure out who should be President. And to die for your country in Bumfuckistan, where you will be issued a fully-automatic weapon, a bunch of ammo, and maybe even a handgun.

  12. G– D— it!!!!!!! Logged out again after writing a lengthy and formatted and thoughtful response. F— off reason.

    1. Yeah, I refuse to even try commenting here from my android for that reason. Not worth it.

  13. Why bother? Here I think the arguments are better.
    War and peace.

    Neither Obama nor Romney will even begin to tear down the out of control military buildup, or change our militaristic foreign policy, or take any great pains to avoid the next war.

    Equal rights for women and same-sex couples.
    Women already have equal rights. Same-sex couples seem to be gaining them slowly, whether or not I vote.

    My personal favorite, the balance of the Supreme Court.
    Neither Obama nor Romney will ever appoint a Justice that even remotely shares my libertarian philosophy.

    The prospect of meeting the love of your life at the polling place.
    1. Not into grannies.
    2. Better odds at the DMV, but that still doesn’t make me want to go there.
    3. If I did meet someone hot, she’d most likely dump me when she finds out I’m a libertarian.

  14. Why I really want Obama to lose. Not because I think there’s much difference between he and Romney but because I want to see these peoples heads explode like lemmings.


    1. After Obama loses, they need to sit down, take a deep breath, and reconsider their total rejection of reality.

      1. What they need to do and what they will actually do are two different things.

        1. Well, that’s my professional opinion.

      2. But look how presidential he is while handling this terrible crisis of wind and rain.

        You just know the MSM is going to be running (heavily edited to remove whatever gaffes he makes) footage of Compassionate Barack helping people recover from Sandy 24/7 until election day. I want to laugh when the talking heads say this is an opportunity for him to connect with the voters, but a large part of me knows they’re right. Don’t ever underestimate the American voter’s stupidity.

  15. Washington’s mail-in ballots have pretty much killed the possibility of meeting the love of my life while I’m voting, unless she happens to be breaking and entering while I’m filling out my ballot.

    I left the door unlocked, but so far nothing’s happening. I’m afraid I’m just going to have to give up and mail this thing.

  16. AMC. Friday the 13th movies are boring and repetitive as shit and you dicks have featured the whole fucking series about nineteen times this month. Why can’t you play something like Tales from the Hood?

  17. It is useless to vote in a Presidential elections, where your vote truly does not matter, since we simply vote in a referendum to see who the electors will vote for.

    It does matter in those “rinky-dink” local bond elections where someone is looking to give your money to some other person to do something we may or may not need – like a public school every half-mile or so. Always show up and vote “No” in those.

  18. In your face Katherine… come election day, I’m going to vote.

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