Religion

Michigan’s Muslim voters mobilize to vote ‘uncommitted’ in Democratic primary

(RNS) — In one of the most watched Democratic primaries this election cycle, Michiganders will head to the polls Tuesday (Feb. 27), where many will encounter volunteers from Listen to Michigan advocating for them to cast an “uncommitted” ballot to signal disapproval of President Biden’s actions so far in the Israel-Hamas war.

In a state where Biden won by only 3 points in 2020, Democratic officials are keeping a close eye on how he performs there in the primary, particularly among the state’s substantial Arab American population, the country’s largest, which was key to his narrow victory over former President Donald Trump four years ago but has since fractured in the wake of the war.

Dozens of local leaders from Dearborn and Hamtramck, which count large Muslim communities, as well as Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat and Palestinian-American, also announced she would vote “uncommitted.”

Over the past few months, Listen to Michigan has worked to mobilize voters through door-to-door campaigns and rallies to show up at the primary and do likewise. 

“Michigan voters are sending Biden a clear message in the February 27 Democratic primary that he can count us out. We are filling out the UNCOMMITTED bubble because we strongly reject Biden’s funding war and genocide in Gaza,” wrote the group on their website

The state’s more than 200,000 Muslim voters — as in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and other swing states — showed up overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020. Nationwide, 64% of Muslims went for Biden in 2020, according to the AP. But, in the months since Hamas’ deadly attack in Israel on Oct. 7, many have felt betrayed by Biden’s support for Israel’s response and his refusal to advocate for a cease-fire, even as the death toll in Gaza approaches 30,000. 

Mona Marwari, of Dearborn, calls a voter for the Listen to Michigan uncommitted vote campaign in Detroit, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Michigan voters are poised to cast ballots in their respective presidential primaries on Tuesday but a feeling of voter apathy has swept over the state. Both major parties have said that they must win Michigan to secure the White House this year but they're struggling to connect with voters. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Mona Marwari, of Dearborn, calls a voter for the Listen to Michigan uncommitted vote campaign in Detroit, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Michigan voters are poised to cast ballots in their respective presidential primaries on Tuesday, but a feeling of voter apathy has swept over the state. Both major parties have said that they must win Michigan to secure the White House this year, but they’re struggling to connect with voters. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

For many, Tuesday’s primary is the first occasion to show the impact of Muslim Americans’ dissatisfaction with Biden’s foreign policy. 

The Abandon Biden campaign, a national coalition that pledged to make Biden “a one-term president,” also called on its Michigan supporters to vote “uncommitted” in tomorrow’s election.

Launched in November, the movement now counts more than 100 community leaders nationwide and a local chapter in nine swing states. 

“Just alone in Michigan, Arab and Muslim Americans will decide whether Michigan is going to vote for Biden,” said Hassan Abdel Salam, a member of the coalition.

He explained that the movement tries to form partnerships with leaders from Latino and African American communities. On Monday, it launched its Minnesota chapter in front of Minneapolis’ Federal Court House in the presence of members from the activist group Jewish Voice for Peace.

In this image taken from video, Muslim community leaders from several swing states pledge to withdraw support for US President Joe Biden, Dec. 2, 2023, at a conference in Dearborn, Michigan, citing his refusal to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. (Video screen grab/#AbandonBiden)

In this image taken from video, Muslim community leaders from several swing states pledge to withdraw support for US President Joe Biden, Dec. 2, 2023, at a conference in Dearborn, Michigan, citing his refusal to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. (Video screen grab/#AbandonBiden)

At this stage of the war, the Abandon Biden campaign has pledged not to vote for Biden, even if the president were to now advocate for a cease-fire.

Their rejection of President Biden is mirrored in many Muslim American communities, said Salam, noting the shift from the 2020 presidential election. “That really represents an earthquake,” he said.

Michigan’s chapter of Emgage, an advocacy group working to increase Muslim American involvement in politics, also joined Listen to Michigan in its call to vote “uncommitted.”

In a letter issued on Monday, Hira Khan, the executive director of Emgage Michigan, wrote that the “uncommitted” vote was an opportunity for those who want the Biden administration to stop sending military support to Israel and increase humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

“Our voices matter, and we will ensure they are heard through actions that align with our principles,” she wrote.

In her letter, Khan also reaffirmed the importance of showing up to the polls, regardless of the outcome.

Emgage's Million Muslim Votes campaign logo. (Image courtesy Emgage)

Emgage’s Million Muslim Votes campaign logo. (Image courtesy Emgage)

Emgage, which claims to have mobilized a million Muslim voters in the 2020 election, launched its second edition of the Million Muslim Votes campaign last week. 

The campaign’s coordinator, Mohamed Gula, said it was particularly important to show up as a “powerful voting and social bloc” and participate in keeping democracy “strong and vibrant.”

“This effort is especially crucial given the violence in Gaza and elected officials’ apathy towards it: our voices must be heard now more than ever,” he wrote in a statement. 

For this election, the Million Muslim Votes campaign plans to partner with more than 70 organizations and launch the campaign in new states, including California, New York, and Arizona. 

Since 2020, the Muslim American community’s political influence has significantly increased; the number of Muslim voters went from 1.2 million to 1.8 million, according to data from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Salima Suswell. (Photo courtesy Emgage)

Salima Suswell. (Photo courtesy Emgage)

Political consulting firm Aristotle collected the figures by analyzing surnames, first names, geographical information and nationalities on voters’ registries.

The research also points out the diversity of the Muslim electorate and estimates that 300,000 Muslim voters are of African American, White and Latin American heritage.

Salima Suswell, the executive director of Emgage’s Pennsylvania chapter, said Black Muslim voters are prioritizing two issues: Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war but also his domestic policies affecting marginalized urban communities.

“We are not a one-issue community. We have to also focus on the domestic policies that are deeply impacting marginalized communities here in America,” said Suswell, who is Black. 

Suswell said she will also cast an “uncommitted” ballot when the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary comes in April. 


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