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.
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

With votes still being counted in Tuesday's presidential primary in Wisconsin, the movement to protest President Joe Biden at the ballot box in response to his handling of the war in Gaza has exceeded its own expectations.

With more than 90 percent 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 percent of the Democratic presidential primary vote counted so far.

Those margins may change as more 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.

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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 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 percent of the vote, according to a race call by The Associated Press. But nearly 13 percent 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 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.

Their 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 October 7 attacks on Israel, which Israel says killed around 1,200 people, Israel launched a counter-offensive that has killed more than 32,000 people, according to Gaza health officials.

Supporters of the "Vote Uninstructed" movement join a pro-Palestinian march in Milwaukee last Saturday.
Supporters of the "Vote Uninstructed" movement join a pro-Palestinian march in Milwaukee last Saturday.
Chuck Quirmbach/WUWM

Last month, in Minnesota about 19 percent 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 percent 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 their 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 former President Donald Trump.

In a statement to NPR ahead of Tuesday's election, the Biden-Harris campaign said "the President believes that making your voice heard is fundamental to who we are as Americans" and that "Biden shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

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