Filmmaker Errol Morris Gives Us “11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote?”

All through­out this inter­minably long pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cycle, which has been going on since at least 2010, I’ve had a laser-like focus on polit­i­cal news. You might even call it a death grip. Because I’m a pol­i­tics junkie. It’s a dis­ease, I know, I rec­og­nize I need help, and I’ll get it—after Novem­ber 6th. As a pol­i­tics junkie, I am sub­ject to a cer­tain severe irri­ta­tion: pro­found exas­per­a­tion with those myth­i­cal beasts called “unde­cid­ed vot­ers,” who are even more galling than third par­ty vot­ers are to hyper-par­ti­sans. “What?” I shout at the radio, when one of these cryp­to-zoo­log­i­cal crea­tures calls in. “You dream­ers, you obliv­i­ous block­head­ed dream­ers!” I shout, and oth­er things. Yes, in my mania, I’ve shout­ed these things at the radio, because how can peo­ple not have made up their minds months ago, been glued to inter­net news and opin­ion for hours, pored over minis­cule pol­i­cy details, destroyed their eye­sight, col­lapsed their spine under the weight of civic duty? How, indeed. But per­haps (and every pol­i­tics junkie fears this pos­si­bil­i­ty), the unde­cid­ed vot­ers aren’t idiots—perhaps they’re thought­ful, kind, trust­ing, tru­ly… dare I say it, inde­pen­dent….

Now with all of our weird vit­ri­ol direct­ed at the “unde­cid­eds,” preter­nat­u­ral­ly myopic junkies lose sight of a bloc with the pow­er to bend, break, or shat­ter the scales altogether—non-voters. In a nation that has expend­ed tril­lions of dol­lars, thou­sands of lives, and quite a lot of inter­na­tion­al good will to give oth­ers the right to vote in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, we make a pret­ty poor show­ing at the polls every four years, with rough­ly half of us declin­ing to exer­cise our fun­da­men­tal right to vote for our lead­ers. Think about that: half. Fifty per­cent of Amer­i­cans: when women only won the right in 1920 and after amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion. When African Amer­i­cans fought for a hun­dred years and only ful­ly won the right in 1965 with the Vot­ing Rights Act. These are significant–if sig­nif­i­cant­ly belated—achievements, and, to be sure, they’re the rea­son so many peo­ple trea­sure their vote as a pre­cious token of polit­i­cal auton­o­my. But non-vot­ers are an invis­i­ble enig­ma: no one talks much about the appalling­ly low turnout in this coun­try, except to men­tion it in pass­ing. So doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er Errol Mor­ris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War), provo­ca­teur and social crit­ic, decid­ed to dis­cuss the issue with over 50 peo­ple under the age of 40. The result is the short film above, teas­ing­ly titled “11 Rea­sons Not to Vote?”

What Mor­ris found con­founds the faithful—the junkies scowl­ing into their micro­fiche read­ers. Non-vot­ers, and the unde­cid­ed, can take a larg­er view; as Mor­ris points out in his accom­pa­ny­ing New York Times essay, non-vot­ers not only com­ment on the fact that no major par­ty can­di­date has dis­cussed issues so many peo­ple care about—poverty, cli­mate change, the drug war, the dys­func­tion­al prison system—but non-vot­ers real­ize that if no one’s talk­ing, noth­ing will be done. Some of them may be cyn­i­cal, but many more may just­ly say they’re real­ists. Per­haps it’s us, the vot­ers, who are dream­ers.

The 11 rea­sons Mor­ris gives, with tongue lodged in cheek, are as fol­lows (with my explana­to­ry gloss­es in paren­the­ses):

  1. You can’t depend on demigods (Hint: politi­cians aren’t demigods, even when they seem so)
  2. Like jazz, apa­thy is an Amer­i­can art form (slack, an appro­pri­ate response to polit­i­cal fun­da­men­tal­ism?)
  3. Flori­da (deba­cle, year 2000)
  4. The Elec­toral Col­lege (does any­one under­stand this thing?)
  5. Missed entre­pre­neur­ial oppor­tu­ni­ties (one vote, one price)
  6. Poten­tial extra­di­tion (absen­tee bal­lot if under ren­di­tion?)
  7. Awk­ward fam­i­ly din­ners (vot­ing out of spite for fam­i­ly mem­bers)
  8. Traf­fic (acci­dents on the way to polls can­celed out by dat­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties at the polls)
  9. Forced analo­gies (warn­ing: involves foot­ball)
  10. Overzeal­ous advo­cates (car­rots and sticks)
  11. Mas­culin­i­ty is under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed (The Man: stick it to him)

I come away from Morris’s exer­cise sub­dued, not cured, but per­haps ready to wean myself away enough to look at why we make elec­tions mat­ter so much, when they seem to do so lit­tle for so many. That said, how­ev­er, I’m still going to vote. The com­ment that struck me more than any oth­er was this: “If you don’t vote, you can­cel your own vote.” Mor­ris replies, “that’d be stu­pid.” And it would be, I think, damn it all.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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Comments (9)
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  • August says:

    12. no viable can­di­dates field­ed.
    13. my state will go red regard­less of what I do.
    14. It is embar­rass­ing for any­one with any knowl­edge of eco­nom­ics to be seen at the polls.
    15. Wish I had nev­er reg­is­tered- that way I would­n’t have to wor­ry about get­ting called for jury duty.
    16. Vot­ing for a fool makes me feel like one.
    17. (Almost a cliche by now) The less­er of two evils is still evil.
    18. There is a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that the liars who pre­tend that they will do some­thing I want might get scared and actu­al­ly do what I want when they see they can no longer get me to the polls by just pay­ing me lip ser­vice.
    19. There is no way to vote against the war.
    20. There is no way to vote against the bailouts.
    21. It occurs to me I could con­tin­ue on in this vein for quite some time.

  • CMStewart says:

    August is right.

  • Laroquod says:

    Indeed — I agree with August. Much, much bet­ter rea­sons are avail­able in places where par­ti­sans nev­er look, like a sys­tem cur­rent­ly being erect­ed, by Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats alike, that allows a state of per­pet­u­al war against a noun, lead­ing to the destruc­tion of all civ­il lib­er­ties since we USA is now fight­ing a puta­tive ‘war’ that is not actu­al­ly a war at all, and that can have no log­i­cal end. Amer­i­ca is not democ­ra­cy when it’s at war. Amer­i­ca is now per­pet­u­al­ly at war with no end in sight (will ter­ror­ism ever be defeat­ed? it’s like ask­ing will lying be defeat­ed); ergo, Amer­i­ca is no longer a democ­ra­cy, ren­der­ing vot­ing point­less.

  • ganesha23 says:

    Well, if vot­ing were the only right, respon­si­b­li­ty, duty then I might agree with you all. You also need to be vocal ie, call and/or your rep­re­sen­tives, talk with your neigh­bors. Be an active part of your com­mu­ni­ty, as much as you can or want to be. I also try to work for change that I want to see hap­pen even if I don’t think it will hap­pen. I still have to try.

    To me the three of you and many oth­er Amer­i­cans have fall­en into the trap of Apa­thy. Which those in pow­er (and I mean pow­er in its broad­est sense) want us to feel pow­er­less.

  • Mike says:

    August, CMStew­art, and Laro­quod: As a reg­is­tered Inde­pen­dent, these are the kind of com­ments that absolute­ly infu­ri­ate me. Let me respond to August’s unfor­tu­nate ideas:

    “12. no viable can­di­dates field­ed.”
    Have you even thought about look­ing at the plat­form of the third par­ty can­di­dates?
    “13. my state will go red regard­less of what I do.”
    As long as you don’t vote, it will. As long as you don’t take an inter­est in local pol­i­tics, bal­lot issues, and momen­tum-build­ing elec­tion cycles, it will.
    “14. It is embar­rass­ing for any­one with any knowl­edge of eco­nom­ics to be seen at the polls.”
    I’m not real­ly sure what this is sup­posed to sug­gest, so I’ll skip it.
    “15. Wish I had nev­er reg­is­tered- that way I wouldn’t have to wor­ry about get­ting called for jury duty.”
    Again, I’ll skip this.
    “16. Vot­ing for a fool makes me feel like one.”
    Then don’t vote for a fool. Seri­ous­ly. If noth­ing else, write your­self in and focus on the oth­er votes.
    “17. (Almost a cliche by now) The less­er of two evils is still evil.”
    It IS a cliche by now. Don’t vote for an evil. Find a can­di­date you iden­ti­fy with, there are more than two.
    “18. There is a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that the liars who pre­tend that they will do some­thing I want might get scared and actu­al­ly do what I want when they see they can no longer get me to the polls by just pay­ing me lip ser­vice.”
    Real­ly? Real­ly? You think there’s a “strong pos­si­bil­i­ty” of that hap­pen­ing? Find me a sin­gle instance of that ever hap­pen­ing.
    “19. There is no way to vote against the war.”
    Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two can­di­dates: Jill Stein, Green, who would mas­sive­ly cut the mil­i­tary and close dozens of bases around the world and pro­mote the Nation­al Guard back to its role as our defense force. And Gary John­son, Lib­er­tar­i­an, lit­er­al­ly said in a debate last week: “Bring the troops home TODAY.”
    “20. There is no way to vote against the bailouts.”
    See above can­di­dates.
    “21. It occurs to me I could con­tin­ue on in this vein for quite some time.”
    It occurs to ME that you could con­tin­ue to be WRONG in this vein for quite some time as well.

    Laro­quod: “Amer­i­ca is no longer a democ­ra­cy, ren­der­ing vot­ing point­less.”

    I lit­er­al­ly feel sor­ry for you for believ­ing that. It blows my mind that peo­ple so com­plete­ly write off third par­ty can­di­dates who hold almost iden­ti­cal views to their own. If the 90 mil­lion pes­simistic Amer­i­cans who don’t vote actu­al­ly got up and did vote, then we’d see some changes.

  • August says:

    Mike, if you are vot­ing, then chances are, you aren’t fight­ing. If you think vot­ing can work, then you aren’t look­ing for the alter­na­tives. Say­ing we need more vot­ers is some­what akin to say­ing we need more drug addicts. A third par­ty is held out as a dim pos­si­bil­i­ty pre­cise­ly to keep you mol­li­fied. Go ask some of these Ron Paul folks who par­tic­i­pat­ed strong­ly with­in the GOP whether or not they think the thing is rigged. Rom­ney did­n’t have to pull those gestapo moves- he would have won any­way and could have been gra­cious to peo­ple who tried so hard and played by the rules. But Rom­ney revealed he can’t han­dle dis­sent. Nei­ther major par­ty will let anoth­er third par­ty get ahead- at least one of them needs to be end­ed so that the cur­rent sys­tem is destablized. Per­haps a third par­ty could man­age then, but even then you are look­ing at a lot of politi­cians who’d just switch to the new par­ty and start play­ing the same game. Change is much hard­er than it looks and will prob­a­bly come most­ly when things are so broke D.C. can’t keep up the cha­rade any­more.

  • Josh Jones says:

    I think August makes a nec­es­sary point regard­ing third-par­ty vot­ers, and the hor­ri­ble treat­ment of the Ron Paul cau­cus (who were, after all, try­ing to nom­i­nate a *Repub­li­can* can­di­date, it’s worth not­ing) is a telling exam­ple. The third par­ty “protest vote” car­ries lit­tle more weight than the con­trar­i­an grous­ing of arm­chair activists on Face­book. I admire the sen­ti­ment, but don’t find it a use­ful exer­cise to vote out­side the two-par­ty sys­tem; as much as I wish it made a dif­fer­ence, it does­n’t.

    And Laro­quod’s point about the sus­pen­sion of democ­ra­cy is also nec­es­sary. A state of war is, in Nazi polit­i­cal the­o­rist Carl Schmidt­t’s infa­mous phrase a “state of excep­tion,” a pre­con­di­tion for dic­ta­tor­ship, in which demo­c­ra­t­ic rules do not apply. A per­ma­nent state of war is a per­ma­nent state of excep­tion, and any and all lib­er­ties can be sus­pend­ed in the inter­est of nation­al secu­ri­ty with­out pop­u­lar recourse.

    As I said above, I’m vot­ing, for my own reasons–which I believe are very good ones–but I don’t believe that the elec­toral sys­tem alone will deliv­er any­thing resem­bling a just and free soci­ety, only small gains that nonethe­less mat­ter in our life­time and should be fought for.

  • Mark Sebert says:

    I don’t vote because I do not want to uphold a sys­tem that is bent of fuck­ing us.

  • Kristen Williams says:


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