The Significance of “Uncommitted” Vote in Michigan

Malik Miah

[UPDATE: Super Tuesday primary results in Minnesota show the “Uncommitted” movement spreading, with 19% of Democratic voters choosing that option. In Massachusetts, nine percent voted “No Preference” and in Hawai’i the uncommitted vote reached 29% in the Democratic primary.

[The 45,000 Minnesota Uncommitted votes followed a brief grassroots effort with a bare-bones $20,000 budget, a tenth of what the Michigan campaign had raised. In Wisconsin, efforts are beginning for an Uncommitted vote in the April 2 presidential primary to protest the Biden administration’s participation in Israel’s genocidal Gaza slaughter – eds.]

“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 cease-fire,” said Listen to Michigan campaign manager Layla Elabed. Her sister U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), the only Palestinian American in Congress, has backed the effort.

The Uncommitted campaign sent President Biden a strong message. Organizers had said they were hoping for 10,000 votes in the Democratic Party primary on February 27. In fact, over 100,000 politically conscious votes were cast as Uncommitted, more than 13% of the total statewide vote. Biden won 81%.

According to The Detroit Free Press, “Four years ago, Joe Biden got 88% of the vote in the two precincts in the south end of Dearborn, a working-class area in the shadow of the Ford Rouge [auto manufacturing] plant where more than 90% of the residents are Arab Americans and Muslim….

“Biden lost to ‘uncommitted’ in Dearborn, Hamtramck and Dearborn Heights, the three cities in Michigan with the highest percentage of residents of Arab descent. In Dearborn, the ‘uncommitted’ vote was 57% while Biden got 40%… In Hamtramck, the margin was even greater, with the ‘uncommitted’ vote among Democrats at 61%…

“Biden was crushed in five Dearborn districts with high percentage of Arab Americans. The result was 85%, 90%, 83%, 84%, 92%.”

Crucially, Biden had won those districts in 2020. In Wayne County, which includes the city of Detroit and its African American majority population, the overall uncommitted vote stood at 16.8%.

(For a detailed breakdown of the vote by city and county, see Bridge Michigan.)

A Powerful Message

Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now,” on February 28 interviewed two supporters of Palestine who backed the “uncommitted” campaign and demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

The same program included a powerful segment on the February 25 self-immolation protesting the U.S.-supported genocide in Palestine by Aaron Bushnell, 25, an active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force, outside the Israeli Embassy.

This was the second self-immolation against Israel’s war escalated after October 7. According to the New York Times, “a woman with a Palestinian flag lit herself on fire outside of the Israeli consulate building in Atlanta; she was not identified, and she has remained hospitalized, currently listed in stable condition.”

“The movement to vote ‘uncommitted’ will likely spread to other states,” Goodman explained. “Organizers of the movement are holding a call with supporters in Minnesota, which will vote next week, and Washington state, which holds its primary March 12th.”

Goodman was joined by James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, and former Michigan Democratic Congress member Andy Levin.

Levin was targeted by the pro-Israel lobby and lost his primary reelection in 2022. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had invested millions in Democratic primaries. It is spending even more in 2024.

Levin commented on the spectacular emergence of the Uncommitted movement:

“It was really an incredible thing, Amy. You know, I’ve been organizing for peace for 40 years, and I’ve rarely seen such an organic and authentic movement come together in, as you say, just three weeks.

“This was something that grew up out of the Arab American and larger Muslim communities in Michigan, but it had great power among progressives, among Jewish people, Christians, Muslims, people of other faiths, people of no faith. College campuses were aflame about this….

“The message from us to the president yesterday was: You must change course… You’ve got to move towards an immediate and permanent ceasefire and an end to this carnage, free all the hostages, free political prisoners among the Palestinians, including leading longtime prisoners — if you don’t like Hamas, free Marwan Barghouti, who’s been in prison for so long, whom many Palestinians might support to change the situation there.”

James Zogby was asked by Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzalez whether the “Uncommitted” campaign could spread to other states. Zogby responded that the point has been made:

“A hundred-plus thousand ‘uncommitted’ votes, much larger than anyone anticipated, makes a point: President Biden, you ignore this vote at your risk. And I think, frankly, there is not a need to go any further…

“We can extrapolate from the rest of the states what the turnout would be in November if we ignore this issue and continue to ignore this issue, not only, as the congressman said, with the Arab American vote, but with young voters, Black voters.

“My brother John has done polling on this among American voters, not just Arab American voters. The impact that the Gaza war is having on voters under 29, the impact it’s having on Black, Latino and Asian voters, who are core to the Democratic coalition, is very clear.

“There is genocide unfolding. People want it to end. The president either is going to have to act decisively to end it, or it’s going to have an impact in November.”

Key Takeaways

The movement in Michigan reflects a broader revulsion against Washington’s Middle East policy and its blank-check support for Israel.

Israel’s government has made clear its aim to kill as many Palestinians as quickly as possible, until they are forced to leave their land. New plans to re-settle Jewish families in Gaza are openly discussed.

“[The uncommitted vote] showcases that in this country, we are tired of taking our tax dollars and funding it towards a war that is killing innocent people and that we’re asking our leadership in this country to listen to what we’re saying and create a better society in which we’re valuing peace and human life,” Lexis Zeidan with Listen to Michigan told CBS News Detroit.

As the “Uncommitted” campaign shows, the fightback and solidarity movement will take many forms. Protest voting is one useful tactic, so long as it remains combined with public demonstrations.

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