The push to vote 'uncommitted' to Biden in Michigan exceeds goal

A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Biden rallies outside of a polling location at Maples Elementary School on Feb. 27 in Dearborn, Mich.
A Democratic voter uncommitted to President Biden rallies outside of a polling location at Maples Elementary School on Feb. 27 in Dearborn, Mich.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Joe Biden might have won the Michigan Democratic primary, but for some voters who disapprove of his handling of Israel's war in Gaza, Tuesday night was about sending a strong message: Change course or lose votes in the general election.

As of 5:00 am ET Wednesday, more than 100,000 votes for the uncommitted option on the Democratic ballot have been counted, according to results reported by The Associated Press.

Biden maintains more than 80 percent of the total vote with nearly 618,000 votes.

Listen to Michigan, a campaign started and spearheaded by predominantly younger Arab and Muslim organizers, led a push for Democrats to vote uncommitted in the primary as a protest vote.

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They're urging Biden to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza and stop sending U.S. aid to Israel. It comes nearly five months after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Since then, almost 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed.

"We have led a movement that is far exceeding expectations, using the ballot box to urge America to stop killing our families," said Listen to Michigan spokesperson and Democratic strategist Abbas Alawieh at a watch party in Dearborn, Mich. "That's all we're asking for. Just stop killing our families," he added.

Dearborn has been at the center of this movement, where more than half the population is of Middle Eastern or North African descent.

"This coalition is one that wants to bring the morality back to this country because somewhere along the line, we have lost it," said Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud at the watch party Tuesday night.

"We will be that movement to bring [elected officials] back in line, if not with this primary election, then with November," he added.

The campaign's goal was to get more than 10,000 votes, approximately the margin that former President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by in 2016 when turnout dropped compared to former President Barack Obama's reelection run four years earlier.

In previous presidential primaries, the uncommitted option in Michigan has gotten thousands of votes. For comparison, in 2012, the last time that Democrats had an incumbent president on the ballot, more than 20,000 people chose to vote uncommitted in Michigan.

Plus, in 2008, over 238,000 voted uncommitted as part of a movement to support former President Barack Obama's candidacy, who was not on the state primary ballot.

Notably, Biden won Michigan in 2020 by more than 150,000 votes. But organizers behind the Listen to Michigan campaign say the anger and hurt caused by the U.S. stance on the war in Gaza will pose severe problems for Democrats if they don't change course.

As of 2020, there were over 200,000 registered voters in Michigan who identified as Muslim, and over 300,000 Michiganders identify as Middle Eastern or North African, according to data from the U.S. Census.

Plus, opposition to Biden's handling of Gaza may be spreading past Arab and Muslim voters. In a New York Times/Siena Poll released in December, Biden received noticeably high disapproval on his handling of the issue from voters under 30.

Young voters may play a crucial role in the 2024 election. In the 2022 midterms, Michigan had the highest turnout of any state among voters under 30, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

The Michigan primary comes to a close just a day after Biden announced that a temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas could happen by Monday.

"Our hope is that a long-overdue ceasefire agreement is reached as soon as humanly possible," said Listen to Michigan spokesperson and Democratic strategist Abbas Alawieh in a statement to NPR Monday night. But he stressed that the campaign's objective remains for the president to call for a permanent ceasefire publicly.

For other organizers behind the campaign, Tuesday was not about electoral results.

"That's the really important headline here," said spokesperson Lexis Zeidan ahead of primary day. "There are people under this umbrella that are waiting for [Biden] to change course. And there are people in November that have written him off, but they still have faith in the Democratic Party. And I think that's what's really important."

Back at the watch party in Dearborn, supporters excitedly gather to celebrate as the results trickle in.

State Rep. Abraham Aiyash, a vocal advocate of the movement, looks past primary day and onto the Democratic convention, noting that it is possible that the "uncommitted" option could earn at least one delegate.

Delegates are awarded by the Democratic Party if a candidate, in this case "uncommitted" receives 15 percent of the total statewide vote and then 15 percent of the vote in any one Congressional district. The Associated Press had not allocated delegates to "uncommitted" as of 11:15 p.m. ET.

But Aiyash and others are not deterred.

"We're going to Chicago, by the way, 174 days from now, we're going to be at the Democratic National Convention, pushing and growing this anti-war movement," Aiyash predicted.

"Maybe they will listen to Michigan," he hoped.

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