Why did so many Democrats vote ‘uncommitted’ over Biden in Michigan’s primary?

Organisers say their movement is a response to what they see as the president’s lack of action to resolve the ongoing conflict in the Middle East

Mike Bedigan
Los Angeles
Wednesday 28 February 2024 16:16 GMT
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In advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Michigan, organisers mounted a campaign to urge local residents to consider entering an “uncommitted” vote, rather than simply backing Joe Biden, in order to register their opposition to the White House’s handling of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

The movement, coordinated by a number of groups including Listen to Michigan, said that its pleas for the Biden administration to do more to end the devastation in Gaza has “fallen on deaf ears”.

“Frustrated with the lack of response, we are now turning to a more traditional method of democratic expression: our voting power,” the group’s website reads.

Their efforts yielded an extraordinary response, far in advance of the 10,000 target that the organisers had set themselves to loosely match the margin by which Hillary Clinton lost the state in 2016.

As of Wednesday morning, with 98 per cent of the vote counted, President Biden had won the primary with 617,728 votes, accounting for 81.1 per cent of the total, but 100,960 people had marked their papers “uncommitted”, meaning 13.3 per cent of Michigan Democrats had entered a powerful protest vote.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is an ‘uncommitted’ vote?

Michigan is among a handful of states that have an “uncommitted” option on their presidential primary ballot papers.

The act of entering an “uncommitted” vote is not meant to serve as an explicit endorsement of an alternative candidate but, rather, as a questioning of the incumbent’s right to assume the support of his own party’s base.

Why have some people lost faith in the Biden administration?

Since the deadly terror attack on Israel by Hamas militants on 7 October 2023, the Biden administration has rarely veered from its position of support for the Israeli government as it acts militarily against its enemy in Gaza, despite growing international concerns about the number of casualties, many of them civilian, being sustained in the region.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry, more than 29,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of whom are women and children, have died since the start of the conflict five months ago.

Meanwhile, the United States has now vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire in the territory three times.

Michigan organisers say that the ‘uncommitted’ movement is a response to the Biden administration’s lack of action over the ongoing conflict in the Middle East (Reuters)

Listen to Michigan – which operates in a state with approximately 200,000 Arab-Americans, a majority of whom are likely to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause – says pleas to deescalate the conflict have been ignored while many in the Detroit and Dearborn areas of the state say they have been “acutely” affected by the conflict.

“The devastation in Gaza [is] a crisis we feel intimately connected to, as it impacts our friends, families and broader communities,” the group has said.

“Despite our efforts through protests, letters, calls, and demonstrations, our pleas seem to fall on deaf ears while the tragedy in Gaza escalates.”

Earlier this month, President Biden did say that Israel’s response in Gaza has been “over the top” but he has gone no further, publicly, in demanding restraint from Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration.

What does the vote hope to accomplish?

Michigan will be a key battleground state in November’s general election.

Listen to Michigan hopes that the “uncommitted” votes they have attracted will serve as a “warning sign” to both President Biden and the Democratic Party not to take the public’s support for granted.

Michigan will be a key battleground state in the upcoming general election (Reuters)

The group, a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-faith anti-war coalition, hopes that casting a vote in such a way will demonstrate their frustration with the White House’s “funding of war and genocide in Gaza”.

“Having the option to vote uncommitted gives us a strong unifying vehicle to show our discontent and send a message to Biden that we need a permanent ceasefire,” Layla Elabed, Listen to Michigan campaign manager, told the Detroit Free Press.

Ms Elabed’s sister, Michigan Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, said she was “proud” to vote “uncommitted” on Tuesday.

“There is a deep sense of hurt and loss, pain, grief among the Muslim and Arab American community and the progressive community,” her fellow Democratic representative Ro Khanna of California told Politico after visiting the state to stump for Mr Biden and attempt to address the backlash on the president’s behalf.

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