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:
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?
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"?