Politics / April 5, 2024

More Than Half a Million Democratic Voters Have Told Biden: Save Gaza!

The campaign to use “uncommitted” primary votes to send a message to Biden has won two dozen delegates, and it keeps growing.

John Nichols
An image from the "Listen to Wisconsin" campaign.
An image from the “Listen to Wisconsin” campaign. (Listen to Wisconsin)

The “uncommitted” campaign didn’t even exist at the start of the 2024 primary season. But now, more than 500,000 Americans in states across the country have cast Democratic primary votes for “Uncommitted,” “Uninstructed,” and “No Preference” ballot options to send President Biden a message about the urgent need to end the killing in Gaza. What started with the “Listen to Michigan” campaign, which shocked Democratic insiders by securing more than 100,000 votes for the “uncommitted” option on that state’s February 17 primary ballot, has grown into a national phenomenon that has won at least 25 delegates and continues to organize in late-primary and caucus states.

With the results from this week’s primaries, the total vote for uncommitted options on state ballots now stands at 530,502. The campaign has won enough votes to secure Democratic National Convention delegates from Minnesota (14), Hawaii (7), Michigan (2), and, according to local news reports, Washington (2). And notable levels of support for the effort in must-win battleground states such as Wisconsin signal that the president’s campaign cannot neglect the fact that a substantial portion of the base that must be mobilized this fall is crying out for the United States to back an immediate, permanent cease-fire in Gaza, where Israel’s assault has cost more than 33,000 lives.

“This is a big, f**king deal,” declared US Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, after his state voted Tuesday. Pocan was responding to the news that more than 30 percent of voters in precincts where University of Wisconsin–Madison students reside had answered the call of the “Listen to Wisconsin” coalition of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian activists to “[take] urgent action—with our ‘uninstructed’ votes this April—to shift American policy toward an agenda of justice in Gaza.”

The UW campus has been a vital base of strength for Democrats in recent presidential elections in Wisconsin, a state where Biden beat Republican Donald Trump in 2020 by barely 20,000 votes. That’s one of the reasons political observers noted that, in a key campus precinct, support for the “uninstructed delegation” option hit 48 percent, tying Biden’s total. The headline from The Daily Cardinal, a campus newspaper, told the story: “In warning for Biden, UW-Madison area wards vote uninstructed at nearly 4x statewide rate.”

Across Wisconsin, the “uninstructed delegation” option won 48,162 votes—8.3 percent of the total—which is more than double Biden’s 2020 margin of victory. In Dane County (Madison), the Democratic heartland that is absolutely essential to the party’s November prospects, almost 15 percent of voters cast “uninstructed” ballots, and many precincts in Madison registered support in excess of 30 percent. In the state’s most populous county, Milwaukee, 12.2 percent of voters backed the “uninstructed” option. The movement also secured strong votes in some rural regions. For instance, in the small western Wisconsin city of Viroqua (population 4,450), “uninstructed” won almost 22 percent of the vote.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, a Wisconsin native who has been an outspoken supporter of efforts to get the Biden administration to support a cease-fire in Gaza, pointed to the almost 50,000 “uninstructed” votes in the Democratic primary and argued, “Biden won Wisconsin by roughly 21,000 in 2020. A totally different approach to the Israel Hamas war and the impending famine is not only a grave moral imperative but clearly a political one as well.”

That view was shared by Wisconsin state Senator Chris Larson, a Democrat who urged voters to cast “uninstructed” ballots. “Wisconsin has shown the country what it means to uphold democracy and a peace agenda across constituencies of every faith, age, and background,” observed Larson, along with two dozen state and local elected officials who advocated for “uninstructed” voting as a way to deliver an urgent call for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire, full funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and humanitarian aid, and a pathway to peace in Gaza.”

That call was not the only one issued Tuesday with regard to Gaza, which has faced a withering assault from Israeli missiles, bombs, and ground troops since the October 7 Hamas attack.

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In Connecticut, 7,647 voters backed an “uncommitted” option on their state ballot, for 11.6 percent of the Democratic primary total. In the New Haven area, a campaign was organized by activists from the Islamic Association of Central CT and Jewish Voice for Peace Action–Connecticut and other groups. Mongi Dhaouadi, who has been active with the Connecticut Palestine Solidarity Coalition, said of his state’s “uncommitted” voters, “For us, genocide is a red line.”

Voters in Tuesday’s New York Democratic primary didn’t have an “uncommitted” option, so they were urged to leave their ballots blank instead. While the final totals have yet to be tallied, observers estimate that the “Leave It Blank” campaign could win as much as 12 percent of the vote.

And in Rhode Island, 14.5 percent of Democratic primary voters cast “uncommitted” ballots Tuesday, with the option gaining almost 30 percent of the vote in Providence. The state’s “uncommitted” campaign drew the support of Democratic state Senator Sam Bell and Providence City Council member Miguel Sanchez. Former state representative Aaron Regunberg, a Democrat who ran a competitive congressional campaign in a special election last year, advocated for “uncommitted” voting, saying,

I think [Joe Biden] has been a great president. He’s done more on climate and inequality than any in my lifetime.

And today I’m voting uncommitted. Providing military support for the catastrophe in Gaza is wrong. It’s also bad politics, and we need to help Biden understand that.

“This fall I’ll be voting and campaigning for Biden,” added Regunberg, who explained,

While I’ll be campaigning for Biden, I know a lot of people—Muslims, progressives, youth—who right now just can’t support him, and for very legitimate reasons. Want to beat Trump? Help push Biden to make the Israel/Gaza policy changes necessary to secure their votes.

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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