Abdullah Hammoud
If they can figure it out, leaders of Michigan’s “uncommitted” movement will be present in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention this summer. Carlos Osorio/AP

What Happens to ‘Uncommitted’ Delegates? Organizers Will Have to Get Back to You.

Leaders of the “uncommitted” movement in Michigan won two delegates last week.

Before last Tuesday, the group that led the “uncommitted” movement had planned to shut down operations and felt they accomplished their goals in the Michigan primary: winning over 100,000 votes and proving that a coalition of Michigan Democrats were incredibly angry over President Joe Biden’s approach to Israel.

But then they actually won delegates.

“I think right now we’re just trying to understand the whole delegate process, and it’s a very complicated process,” said Layla Elabed, the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan, the grassroots effort that led the “uncommitted” charge. “And I’ll be honest, I’m a novice to it. I got a crash course on it the day of the primary.”

“Uncommitted” has virtually no chance of winning enough support to dominate any internal Democratic Party policy votes over Israel or seriously impact Biden’s path to renomination. (Biden needs 1,969 delegates to win and currently has 206. “Uncommitted” has two.) But if they can figure it out, “uncommitted” will be present in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention this summer as the party tries to unify for the general election, a huge win for a movement that has made showcasing disunity as its chief political superpower.

That means Elabed’s group is not only staying up and running, but it has become the main hub of information for states trying to replicate Listen to Michigan’s success, including those counting votes in tonight’s Super Tuesday primaries. It also means its leaders will need to get up to speed — and fast — on one of the wonkiest parts of electoral politics that few really understand.

The challenge for Listen to Michigan is that voters who support them are, well, uncommitted in the official sense to any candidate or cause. The group now must flood the party-run conventions in congressional Districts 6 and 12 — where they won one delegate each — with enough supporters to ensure that the “uncommitted” delegates chosen are tied to the pro-Palestine protest movement.

As things stand, Listen to Michigan doesn’t have a plan for how it will approach the state’s district conventions. Efforts to draw a large turnout for the primaries last week exhausted its members, and they punted substantive talks with members of the state Democratic establishment to this week.

“It’s not happening as fast as we would like to,” Elabed said. “Our folks are tired.”

Each Democratic state party has its own delegate selection rules, but all of them create their own version of the conundrum facing Michigan’s “uncommitted” cohort. Because ballots have been printed and, in some cases, already mailed to voters, angry Democrats can only vote against the incumbent president rather than for delegates who can raise a ruckus at the DNC.

A DNC spokesperson told NOTUS that any “uncommitted” delegate that does get sent to the convention must vote for a candidate that is eligible for the nomination otherwise their vote will count as “present.”

Israel Palestinians Seattle
The next big prize may be in Washington, where “uncommitted” supporters hope to show a large protest vote. Lindsey Wasson/AP

Several states with Super Tuesday primaries are trying to pick up where Listen to Michigan started. But it’s unclear if movements in those states organized fast enough to win actual convention delegates. Organizers in Colorado are urging angry Democrats to vote “noncommitted,” but their effort launched in earnest after more than 700,000 mail-in primary ballots had already been returned to the board of elections.

Mark Elbourno, an organizer in North Carolina for a campaign called “No Preference, Y’all,” said his group had a meeting with Listen to Michigan organizers last week and is hoping to get 5%-7% of the total votes cast during Super Tuesday’s Democratic primary. At least 15% of voters in any one congressional district would have to select “no preference” for Elbourno and his allies to have to worry about delegates. He said that is not currently their expectation.

“We have a very large coalition ready to go,” Elbourno said in a text. “We aligned with Listen to Michigan to redo it here in NC.”

The next big prize may be Washington, where “uncommitted” supporters hope to show a large protest vote and anyone who wins enough votes can win a delegate to Chicago at Washington’s state Democratic convention in June.

Leaders of the state Democratic Party in Washington passed a resolution in January calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and condemning U.S. policy in the region. Organizers of the UncommittedWA campaign, which has also been in regular contact with Listen to Michigan, told NOTUS they do not expect the state party apparatus to be an impediment to winning specifically pro-cease-fire delegates should voters return enough ballots marked “uncommitted.” State Democratic Party Chair Shasti Conrad didn’t even mention the protest effort or defend the president against it, only that every Democrat should vote by March 12.

The biggest impediment organizers in Washington face is the same as other states: time. The campaign has been running for just a few weeks and the potentially messy process of converting protest ballots into protest delegates just hasn’t been top of mind.

“We’re going to continue putting on that pressure, whether delegates or not,” said Rami Al-Kabra, deputy mayor in Bothell, Washington, and a Palestinian American Muslim. “The coalition is here. We’re going to get the votes. And we’re going to keep continuing to hold our elected officials accountable.”

Party loyalists who run the delegate selection process in Michigan were less enthusiastic about pouring energy into Listen to Michigan’s delegates.

“It’s a great opportunity that a lot of people took advantage of to make sure that we were able to express our voices,” Vaughn Derderian, chair of the 11th congressional district Democratic Party in Michigan, said of the “uncommitted” line on primary ballots in his state. “And now, you know, that we’re through the primary, we’ve had this discussion, we’ve had this conversation, and now it’s time to refocus and be sure that we’re getting ready for the general.”

The chair of the Michigan Democratic Party is slated to meet with Listen to Michigan on Tuesday to go over the delegate process. Although Listen to Michigan’s leaders haven’t mulled any specific requests, they want to discuss what the delegate selection process looks like and what needs to be done “to make sure that we are compliant and we’re doing things the right way,” Elabed said. It is only after this meeting that outreach to the Democratic chairs for Districts 6 and 12 and the Democratic National Committee will begin.

“We’re going to be leading in the lens of learning,” Elabed said of Listen to Michigan’s game plan. “We’re still figuring things out. We’re not ahead of the game or anything like that. We’re kind of going about this day by day.”

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. Evan McMorris-Santoro is a reporter at NOTUS.