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Anti-Biden activists say protest votes continue to mount in presidential primaries

CHICAGO: Although both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have secured their parties’ nominations to stand for president, activists protesting against the Biden administration’s stance on Israel’s war in Gaza are continuing to monitor protest votes by Arabs and Muslims in the remaining primaries and whether or not they might reflect a movement capable of affecting the outcome of the presidential election in November.

Illinois, Arizona, Florida and Ohio held their primaries on Tuesday. Twenty other states and several provinces will hold theirs before the process concludes on June 4, including several “swing states” that could have a big effect on who becomes president.

The #AbandonBiden movement and partner coalitions in several states continue to urge Arabs and Muslims, and other voters unhappy with the president’s pro-Israel policies and actions in relation to the war in Gaza, to register their protest by selecting the “uncommitted” option on ballots in states where it is available, or to include “Gaza” as a write-in ballot choice, or simply cast a “no vote.”

The precise scale of the anti-Biden protest in the primaries is hard to measure as officials in many states have said the final tallies of votes, including protest votes, will not be available until counting by hand is completed next month.

Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said on Wednesday that official counts of protest votes were not yet available for the previous day’s poll in Illinois.

“It looks like most of the protest vote has come from the six-county region around Chicago,” he added.

“We won’t have an exact number until the hand count of every vote, the canvass, is completed on April 19. But in Illinois, 65 percent of all voters are in that six-county region of the state.”

Dietrich said he believes every state goes through a similar process, in which the unofficial vote tallies reported by the media soon after the polls close must be officially verified, a process that can take several weeks.

However, #AbandonBiden activists told Arab News that they believe the preliminary estimates suggest their protest remains “vibrant.”

In Chicago, for example, early indications are that more than 297,217 people voted in the Democratic primary. Biden received 227,756 votes, while three rivals received 26,646 between them. That left 42,815 Democrat votes in Chicago unaccounted for, from people who did not vote for Biden or his rivals, wrote in an alternative choice, such as “Gaza” or “uncommitted,” or spoiled their ballot.

In Chicago’s Cook County suburbs, of the 205,805 people requested ballots 172,880 voted for Biden and 15,500 for his three rivals, leaving 17,425 votes that might represent protest votes.

Activists said these so-far uncategorized votes in those two elections alone represent nearly 60,000 voters who might support the protest against Biden, a number they believe will grow by November.

“This is an indication that the general public is dissatisfied in the performance of President Biden, especially on foreign policy and on Gaza and Palestine,” said Samir Khalil, founder of the Arab American Democratic Club in Chicagoland. “In the last 30 years, nothing has happened. The Democrats have not done anything.

“There is a disappointment that we have soldiers who came back from war, who don’t get the medical treatment they need, and yet we still find a way to give billions in arms and everything else to Israel. And yet here we are, lacking education, healthcare, infrastructure and we are creating more enemies around the world.”

Although Illinois is not considered a swing state, and Biden easily won the state in 2020 by more than 1 million votes, campaigners said the apparent scale of the anti-Biden vote there suggests the #AbandonBiden movement could pose a serious threat to his chances in states where the result four years ago was much closer.

In Arizona, for example, a swing state in which #AbandonBiden and other pro-ceasefire activists are active, leaders of the protest movement believe their campaign is clearly having an effect.

“Why would you vote in a Democratic primary election and not vote for the only major candidate running … unless you are angry with that candidate? That is what we are seeing in Arizona,” said Ahmad Aleweisha, co-chair of the #AbandonBiden campaign in Arizona.

“We see the vote results have skewed against Biden here in Arizona. Any vote not for Biden is a vote against Biden, and that has totaled about 40,000 votes in Arizona on Tuesday.”

Aleweisha claimed that “more than 100,000 people in the community declined to vote” in the election because of Biden’s refusal to embrace calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Activists in Pennsylvania are organizing a similar protest in the state’s Democratic primary on April 21.

“The #AbandonBiden campaign is a civil rights struggle that stands for the premise that life must be protected,” said Hassan Abdel Salam, co-founder of the #AbandonBiden National Coalition.

“Biden turned his back on the value of life. There are no Israelis. There are no Palestinians. The only question is whether you are on the side of life.”

Iftekhar Hussain, a leading member of the #AbandonBiden campaign in Pennsylvania, said: “We are calling on all Pennsylvanians to join the write-in campaign and write ‘No Joe.’ No matter what you write in, the message is that Pennsylvanians will no longer accept ‘Genocide Joe’ to lead our country.”

Biden and Trump will address their parties’ national conventions in the run-up to the presidential election. The #AbandonBiden coalition has said it hopes to organize a national gathering after those events to vet candidates and possibly endorse alternatives to both Biden and Trump.

Democrats in Florida, traditionally considered a swing state, decided to cancel their presidential primary and award their nomination to Biden automatically. The decision frustrated efforts by anti-Biden activists to organize a protest in the state.

Aleweisha told Arab News he believes that the establishment, along with many in the mainstream media, were trying to downplay the scale of the anti-Biden movement.

Biden easily won the Ohio primary on Tuesday but the state election board has not yet released figures on how many protest votes were cast.

Officials from Biden’s re-election campaigns in Illinois and in Ohio did not respond to requests for comment.

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