In an Apparent Rebuke, 14% of Chicago Democrats Voted Blank or Write-in for President

Tuesday’s primary results show more than 40,000 Chicago Democrats declining to select a choice for president, as voters around the country cast protest votes over President Joe Biden’s support for the Israeli genocide.

In These Times Editors

A hand holds up a button that reads "I voted."
An early voter in Chicago holds up an ''I voted'' sticker on March 13, 2024. Photo by Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu via Getty Images

Results from the March 19 primary in Chicago show a significant gap between the number of Democratic ballots submitted and the number of votes cast for one of the four listed presidential options. 

With 98% of precincts reporting (and the results still unofficial), 297,217 Democrats turned out to vote in the election while only 254,402 voted for any of the presidential candidates listed on the ballot — a gap of 42,815 votes, or 14.4%.

Unofficial results as of March 20, 12:50p.m. Chicago Board of Elections

By contrast, in the hotly contested 2016 primary, only 12,687 voters (1.8%) declined to select a presidential option, and in 2012, when President Barack Obama ran uncontested, 24,285 (9%) declined.

President Joe Biden received 227,756 votes and another 11.5% opted for less-popular candidates Dean Phillips (4%), Marianne Williamson (4%) or Frank Frankie” Lozada (2.5%). Including votes for other candidates, at least a quarter of Chicago’s Democratic voters declined to vote for Biden on Tuesday. 

The 14.4% gap appears to include both voters who left the presidential line blank (known as undervotes”) and write-ins. The Chicago Board of Elections could not be reached for comment.

The vote in Chicago comes as the Uncommitted movement — launched in protest of Biden’s support for the war on Gaza — has gained momentum and spread across the country. It began in the key swing state of Michigan when a short but electric campaign resulted in some 100,000 voters writing in Uncommitted” on their Democratic presidential ballots. This followed a smaller, but still notable ceasefire” write-in campaign in New Hampshire.

Including votes for other candidates, at least a quarter of Chicago’s Democratic voters declined to vote for Biden on Tuesday.

Organizers and activists in other states have followed suit, including Minnesota, Arizona and Washington, and others have launched campaigns for their upcoming elections including an uninstructed” campaign in Wisconsin and a leave it blank” campaign in New York.

Uncommitted National is so proud of organizers in Chicago for mobilizing support for our anti-war movement,” says Layla Elabed, chair of the Uncommitted National campaign. Even without an uncommitted or equivalent option on the ballot, Chicago organizers were able to strongly refute Biden’s unrestricted funding of genocide in Gaza.”

Shortly before the vote in Michigan in late February, Elabed, who was then campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, which was organizing the campaign around the Uncommitted vote, told In These Times that One of the reasons it’s not okay to vote for a different Democratic candidate is because the whole institution of the Democratic Party has really turned on their constituency, has turned on their base.

Before we can even talk about Biden getting support at the ballot box, the very minimum that the Biden administration would need to do, for us to talk about what support would look like come November, is support a permanent cease-fire and a reevaluation of our policy of unchecked, unconditional military funding to Israel.”

Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian American resident of the Chicago suburbs who organizes in the community, said after seeing the primary results that there should be no surprise that Palestinians, Arabs, Black people, immigrants, and many others would be rejecting Biden right now.”

Genocide Joe is responsible for over 30,000 Palestinians killed by Israel since October, and folks want to hold him accountable. This is one way to do it, and the other way is to mobilize for protests at the DNC, which is what USPCN, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and dozens of other organizations will be doing in Chicago in August.”

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Organizing before the vote

Illinois did not have an uncommitted option on its Democratic presidential ballot line and also does not formally report blank presidential votes or write-ins. However, many Illinois municipalities, like Chicago, do report total turnout, allowing the total who did not select a listed candidate to be calculated.

Organizers did not build a formally structured campaign around Tuesday’s election in Illinois in the same way that they did in Michigan, which makes the results all the more significant. Many voters saw themselves as part of the larger national campaign and in the days leading to the election, a key part of the discussion among movement groups and activists was how to effectively contribute with their vote — or lack thereof — for president. Some Muslim leaders, along with progressive Jewish groups and other anti-war activists in Chicago, urged voters to write in Gaza” or Free Gaza” or leave the presidential line blank. 

One way to help evaluate the protest message is that, unusually, Democratic voting in the downballot state’s attorney race was higher than the presidential race, with 279,422 votes cast, 25,020 more than the top line contest.

Chicago’s anti-war movement

Chicago has been a major locus of the national anti-war movement pushing for an end to the genocide in Gaza, where recent numbers show about 32,000 Palestinians killed in the unrelenting assault by the Israeli military since October 7.

Home to the largest Palestinian population in the United States, Chicago also recently became the largest city in the country to pass a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who came out in support of the cease-fire, cast the tie-breaking vote that ensured the resolution would be passed.

The movement for cease-fire has reached all corners of Chicago and united groups and communities in resistance to the violence. The U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) has helped lead dozens of actions and efforts, while broad coalitions that include a combination of Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish and multiracial and multiethnic groups also came together to try and spread the anti-war message and push elected officials to act with urgency on the daily massacres in Gaza.

President Biden has remained a central target of these protests. Much of the criticism focuses on how his actions and support for Israel have helped fuel a genocide and enable it to continue.

About a week ago, USPCN released a statement surrounding their disgust that representatives of the White House had invited Chicagoland Palestinians and others to a meeting” on March 14, and demanded that Palestinians, Arabs and any other organizations and individuals refuse to attend.

It’s as if Genocide Joe Biden and his team haven’t learned any lessons from the past few weeks,” Abudayyeh, who in this instance was speaking as the national chair of USPCN, said in a statement. ​“Michigan Palestinians and Arabs rejected a White House meeting, and over 100,000 of them voted ​‘Uncommitted’ in the presidential primary there. We saw the same on Super Tuesday.”

About a week before that, Biden’s motorcade faced difficulty even getting to the State of the Union because protesters tried to block its path on the way to the Capitol.

Two demonstrators sit crosslegged on a road at night with shirts reading "Biden's legacy = genocide." In the background is a crowd in front of the Capitol building.
Hundreds of demonstrators in Washington, D.C., demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza Strip stage a sit-in on a major roadway that President Joe Biden would normally use to reach the Capitol building, just minutes before he is set to give the State of the Union address on March 7, 2024. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Timed to also coincide with the State of the Union, a broad anti-war formation of Chicago activists and organizers held a 24-hour vigil for Gaza where as many names of those Palestinians who have been killed were read one after another. The vigil was punctuated by short speeches, including a State of the Genocide by In These Times executive editor Ari Bloomekatz and contributing writer Eman Abdelhadi.

Many political observers are now focused on how the Uncommitted movement is going to continue to play out in other states — particularly in Wisconsin, where Biden topped Trump by a razor-thin margin in 2020

We are excited to keep building on this momentum in Wisconsin next,” Elabed says. 

That election is on April 2.

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