Michigan election: 'uncommitted' vote share surpasses 2012 with votes still trickling in

Cease-fire activists who mobilized a protest vote against President Joe Biden's support for Israel amid its war against Hamas that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians celebrated those who voted "uncommitted" in Michigan's Democratic primary Tuesday.

The Listen to Michigan campaign set out to win 10,000 "uncommitted" votes in the Democratic primary, a symbolic threshold because that's the rough number of votes that allowed former President Donald Trump to win the battleground state in 2016.

As of 9:55 p.m. Michigan saw 27,568 voters vote "uncommitted" in the Democratic primary, accounting for 15% of the total vote share with nearly 20% of the estimated votes counted, according to results compiled by the Associated Press.

The last time Michigan saw a significant push for voters to vote "uncommitted" was 2008 when Barack Obama took his name off the primary ballot because that year's early primary date violated Democratic National Committee rules. Obama's withdrawal prompted some Democratic leaders to urge Obama supporters to vote "uncommitted." That year, 238,168 — or just over 40% — of participants in Michigan's 2008 presidential primary voted "uncommitted."

More: Arab American voters sound off against Biden during Michigan presidential primary

When Obama ran again in 2012 — the most recent contest in which a Democratic presidential incumbent sought reelection — 20,833 — or nearly 11 percent of voters in the Democratic presidential primary voted "uncommitted."

Supporters of the Listen to Michigan campaign celebrated the "uncommitted" showing in Tuesday's primary at an election night party at Adonis, a restaurant in Dearborn.

"We have been very clear. President Biden needs to take a different approach," Listen to Michigan campaign spokesperson Abbas Alawieh told the crowd. "We also happen to be a community that was deeply harmed by President Trump. We don't want Trump to win either." When it was announced that the "uncommitted" vote surpassed the number of total votes Trump won in Michigan in 2016, supporters cheered and chanted "cease-fire now."

The "uncommitted" effort kicked off with about three weeks until the primary Tuesday and tried to build momentum with a frenzy of phone calls to voters, canvasses and a rally Sunday during which speakers promoting the campaign pushed back against criticism that an "uncommitted" vote would benefit Trump.

More: 'Stop killing our families': Arab Americans vote 'uncommitted' in Michigan primary

As voters headed to the polls Tuesday for the last day of voting in the state's presidential primary, they received dueling messages from Democrats on the electoral strategy.

Several hours before polling locations closed, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, sent robocalls to 87,000 Michigan residents, urging them to vote "uncommitted," pitching it as a way for Biden to "win back the trust of the voting coalition" that elected him four years ago, according to Our Revolution, the progressive political group Tlaib teamed up with to make the calls. Earlier in the day, the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC texted Michigan voters with a warning that voting "'uncommitted' only helps Donald Trump and his hateful agenda."

Not every state gives voters the option to vote "uncommitted" in the presidential primary. But Michigan's election law requires each party's primary ballot to include a space for voting "uncommitted."

Voters use 'uncommitted' option to send message to Biden

Ali Wassin, 23, of Dearborn, didn't know voting "uncommitted" was an option until Tuesday. Arab American and Muslim voters like Wassin, who said they voted "uncommitted," expressed hope their choice would change the trajectory of the war.

"The main reason for me is the genocide that’s happening in Gaza and doing our part to hopefully put an end to it," said Heba Hammoud, 36, of Dearborn outside the Maples Elementary School polling location.

But Wassin said he worries if a surge in "uncommitted" is confined to Michigan's Arab American and Muslim communities without spilling over to other key Democratic constituencies, Biden won't feel pressure to change course on the war.

"That is a big fear of mine," he said.

More: Which states vote on Super Tuesday? What to know ahead of the presidential primaries

Both Hammoud and Wassin said they voted for Biden in 2020 but don't know how they will vote in another Biden-Trump rematch if the current administration doesn't shift its Gaza policies.

"I think we should all be unified behind it. And this is a primary, so I believe that there’s still an opportunity and a chance for the administration to do the right thing," Hammoud said.

Democrats divided over 'uncommitted' strategy

Democratic divisions over the protest vote have mirrored fractures within the party over Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer − Biden's top campaign surrogate in Michigan − has argued the "uncommitted" campaign could bolster Trump's reelection chances as Biden heads toward a likely rematch against his 2020 rival.

But Democrats who support the effort see it as a way to increase Biden's appeal. A majority of Democrats in Michigan support a cease-fire, according to a recent EPIC-MRA survey.

Former U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, who endorsed the "uncommitted" campaign said he doesn't think Biden can win Michigan without changing course on the war. "I just don't see another path to victory for him here," he told the Free Press at the Listen to Michigan election night party. Minutes after most polling locations closed in Michigan, Levin predicted a strong showing for the "uncommitted" vote. "My biggest fear is that it's not and he doesn't get the message," he said.

After the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed about 1,200 people in Israel according to the Israeli government, Biden expressed unequivocal support for the U.S. ally as it fought back with deadly airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. More than 29,600 Palestinians have died, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Amid the growing death toll and pushback from Democrats Biden has shifted his tone somewhat, recently calling Israeli military actions "over the top." But his administration has so far rejected calls for a permanent cease-fire while pushing for a temporary pause in fighting to facilitate the release of hostages.

Contact Clara Hendrickson at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on X, previously called Twitter, @clarajanehen.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 'Uncommitted' campaign celebrates Democratic primary showing