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Protesters urged Pa. Dems to cast ‘uncommitted’ votes against Joe Biden. The primary showed an uptick in write-ins.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

Preliminary primary voting results from the state’s largest Democratic counties showed a higher percentage of write-in votes on the Democratic presidential party line than in the 2020 presidential primary, a possible sign of protest votes cast against President Joe Biden.

Progressive organizers mounted a campaign urging voters to write in “uncommitted” as a protest vote over Biden’s ongoing support to Israel in its monthslong war against Hamas that has claimed tens of thousands of Palestinian lives. The group known as Uncommitted PA hoped to send a message to Biden in a critical swing state he’ll need in November.

But unlike Michigan and some other states, Pennsylvania doesn’t offer an “uncommitted” option on the ballot so it’s impossible to know what voters wrote in as of Wednesday. It might not be clear for weeks.

The increase in write-in votes could be a symptom of larger voter frustration with the options at the top of the ballot.

In the six Pennsylvania counties with the most registered Democrats, the number of write-in votes counted in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary surpassed the 2020 figures, as of midnight Wednesday.

Despite far fewer votes overall in this primary election, approximately 36,000 write-ins have been counted in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Allegheny counties, compared to just 13,000 in 2020 when there was no protest vote organized.

Philadelphia had five times the number of write-in votes for the Democratic nominee for president as it did in 2020. With about 87% of the expected vote in, the total number of votes counted in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary in Philadelphia was half the total number recorded in 2020.

Determining how many of those voters wrote in “uncommitted,” as opposed to other names, like Mickey Mouse, or Gritty, is unclear. Typically, write-in responses can take days or weeks for counties to report.

But the spike in write-ins could be a result of the campaign by Uncommitted Pennsylvania, which was celebrating its efforts Tuesday night. The group had set a goal of getting 40,000 ‘uncommitted’ votes statewide. Biden won Pennsylvania by a little more than 80,000 votes in 2020.

“We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and dedication of our volunteers who have engaged directly with voters today, either at the polls or through phone and text banking.” Uncommitted PA organizer Shalah Ramadan said. “Today’s efforts are a testament to the growing support for the Uncommitted anti-war movement in the United States and growing desire for meaningful action by our President to change course in Gaza.”

Another organization, Abandon Biden, had encouraged voters to use the phrase “No Joe” as a write-in vote to protest Biden’s stance on Gaza.

Pennsylvania voters overall have split over the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict in the Middle East.

In an April Fox News poll, 24% of likely voters said they thought the administration was too supportive of the Israelis and 23% said it was too supportive of the Palestinians. The largest number, 40%, said Biden’s approach was about right. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to think the White House is too supportive of the Israelis.

At the polls in Northwest Philadelphia on Tuesday, Rachel Elfenbein, who voted for Biden in 2020, said she was inspired by how the “uncommitted” vote won two Democratic delegates in Michigan, back in February.

“It’s time for him to shift policies,” Elfenbein said of Biden. “Pennsylvania is a swing state and we can use our power as voters to let him know how disappointed we are with his ongoing support of this war.”

Still, Elfenbein said if it comes down to Biden or Trump in the November elections, she’ll back Biden.

In West Philly, Tea Jackson, 40, said she voted uncommitted because she’s “tired of the lesser of two evils.”

“It’s definitely to send a message,” said Jackson, who is considering voting for a third party in November.

Another uncommitted voter, Ripley Shultz, 30, said she didn’t see much of a difference between the Biden and Trump presidencies, noting she felt both failed to support new immigrants.

At least one Democratic elected official hinted that he voted “uncommitted” in the primary.

State Sen. Nikil Saval said at his Arch Street Presbyterian Church polling station on Tuesday that he was “committed to defeating Trump.” But he declined to answer directly if he voted for Biden.

He said that Biden could boost his standing with young and progressive voters by expanding his domestic focus on climate, education, and affordable housing — and by changing course on Gaza. He called it “hugely important,” to defeat Trump in November.

With six months until the general election, there were also some signs of fractures among Republican Party voters in Tuesday’s primary.

Former Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who dropped out of the race in March, still received a sizable number of votes in Pennsylvania, particularly in the state’s collar counties.

With about 85% of the vote reported, Haley had received a quarter of all Republican votes for president in Bucks County, 38% of the vote in Chester, 42% in Delaware County, and 45% in Montgomery County.

Statewide, without all results counted, she had about 17% of Republican primary votes.


(c) 2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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