Advertisement

'Uncommitted' voters in Washington primary hope to keep pressuring Biden on Israel's war in Gaza

Organizers in Washington state have been leading an effort to encourage Democratic voters to cast their ballots for the "uncommitted" option on Tuesday, in the latest example of a protest movement against President Joe Biden's stance on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The push to choose the uncommitted option, which is not available in every state, began in Michigan in February.

That resulted in some 101,000 uncommitted votes and two delegates won in Michigan, according to ABC News' count and estimates.

In the weeks since, about 46,000 and 450 uncommitted votes were cast in Minnesota and Hawaii, respectively -- enough to also send uncommitted delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

The uncommitted campaign in Washington has a connection to Michigan: Activists from the "Listen to Michigan" campaign collaborated with advocates in Washington like Bothell City Councilmember Rami Al-Kabra.

Within a couple weeks, Al-Kabra told ABC News, the "Uncommitted WA" campaign began.

According to Al-Kabra, some voters in his community initially threw their primary ballots in the trash due to their extreme dissatisfaction with the Biden administration's support for Israel -- but they have since ordered replacement ballots after learning about the "uncommitted" option.

"I feel that the policies in the past five months have been a betrayal of the work I personally did to help mobilize votes for him [Biden] here in the state of Washington" in the last presidential race, Al-Kabra said.

Sabrene Odeh, 29, a Palestinian American who is volunteering with the uncommitted campaign, said it's a "tangible way to send a clear message" to the White House.

"Our votes must be earned," she said. "And if we're going to continue to feel as Palestinians that we are less than or disposable … then we're going to stand in the way of all of our elected officials time and time again until they see the value in our lives."

Broadly speaking, Biden has tried to balance his support for Israel's campaign against Hamas fighters after Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack with sympathy for the tens of thousands of people who have been killed amid Israel's bombardment of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

The president has also pushed for negotiations to implement temporary cease-fires in exchange for hostage releases and criticized Israel's tactics as "over the top." But he has not said he would condition aid to the country on an end to Israel's retaliation or on negotiations with the Palestinians.

His critics, including among Arab and Muslim Americans, accuse him of being indifferent to their suffering and what they contend is Israel's brutal military operation, which the White House says isn't true. (Israel insists it takes steps to curb civilian deaths.)

PHOTO: A woman is helped into a C-VAN after voting in the presidential primary election, March 12, 2024, at the Clark County Elections Office in Vancouver, Wash.  (Jenny Kane/AP)
PHOTO: A woman is helped into a C-VAN after voting in the presidential primary election, March 12, 2024, at the Clark County Elections Office in Vancouver, Wash. (Jenny Kane/AP)

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 72,100 have been injured since the war was sparked by Hamas' October attack, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

"When I see the videos and the pictures and everything that's coming out of Gaza, I see myself, I see my family members," said Odeh, the uncommitted voter in Washington.

She said that the protest movement extends far beyond the Arab American and Muslim American population.

Faheem Khan, another volunteer, echoed that, saying the uncommitted campaign reaches a diverse coalition of voters including many non-Muslim and non-Arab Americans.

Khan also pushed back on criticism from some Democrats that protesting Biden will aid former President Donald Trump's reelection chances, given how close the election could be in some states.

In Michigan, for example, Biden only won in 2020 by about 155,000 votes compared with the 101,000 uncommitted votes there in February's primary.

"I am more concerned that people who are anti-war sit out the election … and that would help Trump more than anything," Khan said.

The campaign in Washington was endorsed by the largest local labor union in the state, United Food and Commercial Workers 3000, a chapter that represents 50,000 grocery, health care and retail employees.

The group cited two reasons for their support: Members are concerned regarding Biden's political strength and ability to beat Trump, and they are angered by the administration's unwillingness to call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

"It's too risky for labor and it's too risky for our democracy to give Trump any chance to win in November," said Joe Mizrahi, the secretary-treasurer for UFCW 3000. "We need a different candidate to bring forward and to maintain those wonderful things that Biden has done or we need Biden to be aggressively making the case."

A Seattle chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and Jewish Voice for Peace Action have also supported the uncommitted effort.

Since Washington conducts its elections by mail, organizers have warned that it may take several days to accurately count how many uncommitted ballots are received.

As of Monday, some 1.27 million total ballots have been returned, according to the Washington secretary of state.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden walks across the South Lawn of the White House, Feb. 19, 2024. (Bonnie Cash/Reuters)
PHOTO: President Joe Biden walks across the South Lawn of the White House, Feb. 19, 2024. (Bonnie Cash/Reuters)

Though Biden has handily won every state's nominating contest so far and is set to clinch the party's overall nomination, Al Kabra said he's "hopeful" that the effort will garner significant reach.

"Early return ballot returns usually skew older and more center, and later ballot returns … are younger and more progressive," he said.

State data shows that ballot returns have gotten smaller in the days closer to Tuesday.

For Washington to send uncommitted delegates to the Democratic National Convention in the summer, the option will have to get at least 15% of the vote either statewide, as happened in Minnesota, or in a congressional district, as in Michigan.

When asked about the "uncommitted" voting effort taking place in Washington, Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hilt said he "shares the goal" of peace in the Middle East.

"The President believes making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans," Hilt said in a statement to ABC News. "He shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He's working tirelessly to that end."

This is not the first time that Democratic voters have voted "uncommitted" in a presidential primary. For example, it happened when former President Barack Obama ran for reelection in 2012.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, an effort similar to the uncommitted campaign has emerged in Georgia, where the "Listen to Georgia" coalition has started a "Leave It Blank" campaign, telling voters not to fill in any bubble in an effort to pressure Biden to do more to support Gaza.

In Wisconsin on April 2, an advocacy group is likewise urging Democrats to vote "uninstructed."

ABC News' Libby Cathey contributed to this report.

'Uncommitted' voters in Washington primary hope to keep pressuring Biden on Israel's war in Gaza originally appeared on abcnews.go.com