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Wisconsin's 'uninstructed' voters send Biden a strong message on the war in Gaza

Halah Ahmad of Listen to Wisconsin speaks to supporters of the "uninstructed" movement in Milwaukee on Tuesday evening after polls closed in Wisconsin's presidential primary.
Chuck Quirmbach
/
WUWM
Halah Ahmad of Listen to Wisconsin speaks to supporters of the "uninstructed" movement in Milwaukee on Tuesday evening after polls closed in Wisconsin's presidential primary.

Updated April 03, 2024 at 10:59 AM ET

The movement to protest President Biden at the primary ballot box in response to his handling of the war in Gaza exceeded its own expectations in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

With more than 90% of the votes counted, the "uninstructed" option on Democratic presidential primary ballots has garnered more than 47,000 votes, according to results from The Associated Press. That's just over 8% of the Democratic presidential primary vote counted so far.

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Those margins may change as the final votes are counted.

As expected, Biden won his party's presidential primary in Wisconsin on Tuesday, according to race call by The Associated Press, and is already considered his party's presumptive nominee.

But organizers, who said they wanted to send a message to Biden to change course before November, set a goal to get at least 20,000 people in Wisconsin to vote "uninstructed."

A close race boosts voters' message

That's about equal to Biden's margin of victory over former President Donald Trump in Wisconsin four years ago. Polls indicate another close race between the two men this year.

"We have blown his last margin of victory out of the water," said Listen to Wisconsin spokesperson Heba Mohammad after watching Tuesday's results. "He needs to be paying attention and calling for an immediate, permanent cease-fire, as soon as possible."

Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, says the president is listening and his party is working to gain their support.

"I think that the message from so many of these voters is that they want to be able to vote for Joe Biden this November. They just don't want this heartbreaking tragedy to continue."

Wikler says by engaging with voters he hopes to convince them that Biden is the better option when it comes to choosing a president in November.

"There's a real opportunity for President Biden's leadership to to bear fruit to end this heartbreaking crisis and reach an enduring just peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and then bring everyone together to stop the threat of a return of Trump."

Former President Donald Trump won the GOP presidential primary on Tuesday as expected with about 8o% of the vote, according to a race call by The Associated Press. But over 12% of GOP primary voters backed former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, even though she suspended her campaign last month.

With a common goal, voters use ballots to voice discontent

The protest vote in Wisconsin is one of the latest in a string of similar movements in other states where voters have tied their support of Biden on Democratic presidential primary ballots to the war in Gaza.

On Tuesday night, voters also cast ballots for the "uncommitted" option in Democratic primaries in Connecticut and Rhode Island. In New York, which doesn't have an "uncommitted" option on its ballots, activists urged voters to submit a blank ballot in Tuesday's primary to protest the president. State election officials tell local public media site Gothamist they plan to release those results following the certification process, which could take about two weeks.

The campaigns' shared goals include urging the Biden administration to do more to bring about an immediate, permanent cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and halting U.S. military aid to Israel.

Following the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, which Israel says killed around 1,200 people, Israel launched a counteroffensive that has killed more than 32,000 people, according to Gaza health officials.

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Last month in Minnesota, about 19% of the Democratic presidential primary vote was for the "uncommitted" option on the state's ballots, according to results from The Associated Press. That followed a tally of 13% of the vote in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary, which was held in February. There have also been campaigns that resulted in "uncommitted" votes in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Hawaii and Washington, along with other states that have similar choices on their ballots.

Not every state has an "uncommitted" or "uninstructed" option on its ballot. In states that do, the choice typically receives thousands of votes in presidential primaries.

The organizers behind these movements are counting this year's results as a win that could have a meaningful impact, especially in what is expected to be a highly competitive race between Biden and Trump.

Copyright 2024 WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee's NPR

Padmananda Rama
Chuck Quirmbach is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers developments and issues in Southeastern Wisconsin that are of statewide interest. He has numerous years of experience covering state government, elections, the environment, energy, racial diversity issues, clergy abuse claims and major baseball stadium doings. He enjoys covering all topics.