Global Inspired Political Cache of “Uncommitted” in Michigan and New York’s “Leave It Blank” Voter Campaigns

[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.”

President 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 a.m. ET Wednesday, more than 100,000 votesfor the uncommitted option on the Democratic ballot have been counted, according to results reported by The Associated Press.

Biden maintains more than 80% 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.

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.

110,000 Michigan Muslims Voted Uncommitted in Primary
110,000 Michigan Muslims Voted Uncommitted in Primary

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 with former President Barack Obama’s reelection run four years earlier.

A Biden campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NPR that while they will continue to work for every vote in November, they are heartened that the “uncommitted” share of the vote wasn’t much higher than the 11% of uncommitted votes in 2012, the last time an incumbent Democratic president was on the ballot. That year there wasn’t an organized effort to get people to vote uncommitted. The campaign is also pointing to the significant number of people who came out and voted for the president, about 600,000, despite it being a largely uncontested primary. That turnout is far better than 2012.


In previous presidential primaries, the uncommitted option in Michigan has gotten thousands of votes. For comparison, in 2012, more than 20,000 people chose to vote uncommitted in Michigan. The number this time is about 101,000.

Plus, in 2008, over 238,000 voted uncommitted as part of a movement to support 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.


On primary day, young Michigan voters are leading call to be ‘uncommitted’ to Biden

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,” Listen to Michigan spokesperson Alawieh said in a statement to NPR Monday night. But he stressed that the campaign’s objective remains for the president to call for a permanent cease-fire 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 gathered to celebrate as the results trickled 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% of the total statewide vote and then 15% 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.

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.

Voters head to the polls in several statesfor the U.S. presidential primaries, including New York, where a growing campaign is hoping that many people will submit blank ballots in the state’s Democratic presidential primary to protest Joe Biden’s continued support for Israel’s months-long assault on Gaza.

Leave It Blank” is a statewide effort, backed by dozens of grassroots organizations, that is bringing the national “uncommitted” movement — aimed at pressuring Biden — to New York State. The campaign came together barely a month ago but has quickly gained momentum as dozens of organizers have phone banked, canvassed and shared information over social media. Unlike many other states, New York does not let primary voters choose an “uncommitted” vote or offer a write-in, so the Leave It Blank campaign has been urging voters to submit a blank ballot as a protest vote.

Today’s primary election comes as over 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s war on Gaza, with many thousands more feared dead under the rubble of the bombings, and with much of Gaza on the brink of famine. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported last week that the Biden administration, despite voicing concern over Israel’s conduct of the war, has “quietly authorized the transfer of billions of dollars in bombs and fighter jets” to Israel.

“Through the Leave It Blank campaign we are sending a clear message to the Biden administration: New Yorkers refuse to be complicit in genocide,” Sumaya Awad, a Palestinian organizer with the Leave It Blank campaign and a member of New York City Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), told Truthout. She added that the blank ballots should be understood as urging Biden to “change course and support a permanent ceasefire and end U.S. funding for genocide or lose votes in the election.”


People react as election results are broadcast at an Uncommitted Minnesota watch party during the presidential primary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

“Uncommitted” Gets Strong Turnout on Super Tuesday, Spelling Trouble for Biden

The movement won 11 out of 75 delegates in Minnesota.

The Origins of the “Leave It Blank” Campaign

New York’s Leave It Blank campaign was inspired by the growing “uncommitted” protest vote movement that has spread across the U.S.

From Minnesota and Hawai’i to Colorado and North Carolina, voters have been selecting or writing in variants of “uncommitted” or “no preference” to register their opposition to President Joe Biden’s ongoing support for Israel’s war on Gaza. New York organizers cite the example of Michigan in particular, where a grassroots effort driven by Arab, Muslim and Palestinian voters in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Hamtramck cast 13.2 percent of all Democratic ballots — over 100,000 votes — for “uncommitted.”

The New York State primary ballot does not have “uncommitted” or “write-in” options, but by urging voters to submit a blank ballot in the Democratic primary election, the Leave It Blank campaign is hoping to replicate the same kind of protest vote in the Empire State. A similar effort occurred in Georgia’s Democratic presidential primary.

In bringing this national movement to New York, a powerhouse state with a deep blue voter base, organizers are hoping to send a resounding message to Biden in one of the strongholds for the Democratic Party. “People want to show that they are against the genocide,” Hesham El-Meligy, a co-founder of Leave It Blank NY, told Truthout. “It’s a continuation of what’s happening in other states.”

For Awad, the rationale behind the campaign is clear: the Biden administration can halt the death and destruction in Gaza if it chooses to do so. “The U.S. government has the power to stop the genocide and end the mass killing and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” she said. “Instead, the Biden administration has gone out of its way to support and enable Israel’s genocide politically, diplomatically and financially.”

In just around a month, the Leave It Blank campaign has knitted together a range of groups across the state in common cause. El-Meligy told Truthout that organizers from Buffalo and Syracuse to New York City “were thinking along the same lines separately” and joined forces in early March to form a statewide campaign. “The campaign evolved amazingly fast,” he said, “and all are working like a beehive to organize the various aspects of this campaign.”

Leslie Cagan, a longtime social justice organizer representing the Jewish Elders Affinity Group in the Leave It Blank effort, says submitting a blank ballot on April 2 is a clear way for voters to express their opposition to Biden’s Israel policy. “We’re doing this because we are horrified that our government continues to support the Israeli government,” she told Truthout. “We need to send a clear message to Biden now that this has to end.”

By submitting blank ballots as a form of protest, says El-Meligy, voters can hold Biden accountable and send a warning about the upcoming presidential election. “If even in New York, one of the bluest of the blue states, if there’s a strong show of a rebuke to the Biden administration’s policy, we’ll send a message that they need to change course,” he said. “Otherwise, it will affect them in the general election.”

From New York City to Buffalo

The Leave It Blank campaign has quickly assembled a broad coalition of Palestinian, Muslim and Jewish organizations and a host of progressive, peace, labor and socialist groups. Thirty organizations — from Jewish Voice for Peace Action to DRUM BeatsNew York Progressive Action Network to NYC Educators For Palestine, and MPower Action to Peace Action New York State — are listed as campaign cosponsors on the Leave It Blank website.

“The evolution of this campaign was organic and very fast,” said El-Meligy.

In recent days, the campaign gained further momentum with an endorsement from the New York Working Families Party. Eight elected officials including four New York City Councilmembers, State Sen. Jabari Brisport, and State Assemblymembers Phara Souffrant Forrest, Marcela Mitaynes and Zohran Mamdani, released a video backing the campaign. New York City Councilmember Alexa Aviles has urged voters to “[l]eave your primary ballot blank to send a message to Pres. Biden that we do not support the genocide of Palestinians.”

And while New York City casts a dominating influence over the whole state, the geographical breadth of the campaign is seen in other regions, including Western New York.

Buffalo, New York’s second-largest city, has been no stranger to protest and insurgency over the past few years. This is the place that birthed the historic Starbucks union drive and the India Walton mayoral campaign that nearly upended the local Democratic Party establishment.

In early March, inspired by the “uncommitted” turnout in Michigan, members of the Buffalo chapter of the DSA wanted to bring the protest vote tactic to Western New York. “This was a campaign that just made sense for us,” Solomon Brown, co-chair of the Buffalo DSA, told Truthout. “It got a lot of people in our chapter really energized and raring to go.”

On March 6, the Buffalo DSA announced an effort to “Blank Biden” — urging “members and concerned voters to leave your ballot BLANK on 4/2” — as a way, said Brown, to “put pressure on Biden and show that we are extremely unhappy with his complete complicity in this genocide.”

The group reached out to fellow DSA chapters across the state, including in nearby Rochester, and learned that organizers in New York City were starting the Leave It Blank campaign. “We just figured, why not coalesce and come together?” said Brown. Seven DSA chapters across New York, including Buffalo, are co-sponsors of the statewide Leave It Blank effort.

For the past few weeks, campaign organizers in Buffalo have spoken at community meetings and joined in a statewide phone banking effort. Others like Our City Action Buffalo (OCAB), a progressive grassroots group, have endorsed the Leave It Blank campaign and joined in canvassing efforts across the city.

“The goal here is to send the Biden administration a clear message from individual voters and from the city as a whole,” Jillian Nowak, an OCAB board member, told Truthout. “We’re demanding a permanent ceasefire now.”

Ultimately, says Brown, this campaign is about pulling people together across the city and state to send the Biden administration a message. “Biden has the power to stop this,” he said, “and if he has any serious desire to be reelected, he better start listening, otherwise he will lose.”

“It’s All People Power”

The Leave It Blank campaign has quickly gained momentum, even in the face of some challenges. For one, unlike many other states, voters cannot select or write in variants of “uncommitted” on the New York ballot. Campaign organizers have been working tirelessly — making phone calls, giving speeches, handing out flyers, knocking on doors, posting on social media — to spread the word to submit a blank ballot.

Moreover, while blank ballots for the Democratic presidential primary are counted in the certified results, City & State reports that state election officials do not announce blank ballots with the unofficial results on the night of the presidential primary election because they don’t impact the allocation of delegates. Gothamistreports that the Leave It Blank campaign is threatening litigation against the New York State Board of Elections if it fails to “report the sum total number of votes cast, including Blanks, in its unofficial election night reporting.”

Still, El-Meligy says the campaign has been “spreading like fire,” and he sees a silver lining in submitting “blank” on a ballot solely for the presidential primary. It “makes it even more powerful,” he says, “because voters know they have no one on the ballot to vote for, but they still went to vote to intentionally leave it blank.”

With minimal resources and less than a month to build the campaign, Leave It Blank has reached thousands of people and added a new dynamic into the primary election. “We’re getting a lot of people, and we’re doing this whole project in really just weeks,” says Cagan. “It’s all people power” and “grassroots organizations,” she says.

Leave It Blank organizers are optimistic about the impact of the campaign. “We’ve heard from so many people that they support the campaign and will leave their ballots blank,” said El-Meligy. “It seems we struck a nerve and will have a good result.” He says that blank ballots are usually around 1 percent, so “anything above that is a testament to our success.”

While organizers are hoping for a strong turnout of blank ballot voters, they stress that the Leave It Blank campaign is just one part of a larger, ongoing effort.

“Leave It Blank and the Uncommitted campaign more generally complement the various strategies and tools being used to pressure our government to end their support for genocide,” Awad told Truthout. “Every tool at our disposal must be utilized, from electoral to labor, from Congress to the streets.”

Cagan echoes this view. “Everything that we can do, every action that we can take, adds to the pressure on the Biden administration to change its policy toward Israel and end this genocide,” she said. “There’s no one action that’s going to turn the tide, but leaving your ballot blank on April 2 will add to the mounting pressure on the Biden administration, and that’s what we need to do.”

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