Arab Americans in Dearborn, Hamtramck vote 'uncommitted' as protest against Biden

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Four years ago, Joe Biden got 88% of the vote in the two precincts in the south end of Dearborn, a working-class area in the shadow of the Ford Rouge plant where more than 90% of the residents are Arab American and Muslim. Frustration with Donald Trump and his Muslim ban led to the president getting only 10.6% in the two precincts at Salina Intermediate School.

But on Tuesday, voters interviewed in Dearborn made it clear they were not supporting Biden this time, primarily because of his strong support for Israel as it launches attacks in Gaza and other parts of the Arab world. In the same two precincts in the south end of Dearborn where Biden got 88% in 2020, he got only 4% of the vote among Democrats while "uncommitted" got 91%, according to a Free Press analysis of precinct results.

Biden lost to "uncommitted" in Dearborn, Hamtramck and Dearborn Heights, the three cities in Michigan with the highest percentage of residents of Arab descent. In Dearborn, the "uncommitted" vote was 57% while Biden got 40%, according to results from Dearborn City Clerk George Darany. In Hamtramck, the margin was even greater, with the "uncommitted" vote among Democrats at 61%, according to results from City Clerk Rana Faraj. In Dearborn Heights, the "uncommitted" vote among Democrats edged out Biden 48% to 47%, according to city results. Biden had won Dearborn, Hamtramck and Dearborn Heights in November 2020.

Arab Americans said they were voting “uncommitted” to send a message to the world from the heart of Arab America that the United States government’s military support for Israel is hurting both Palestinians and also America’s stature in the world and its economy. They called for the U.S. to invest more in its people rather than sending money to foreign nations such as Israel.

“We have to tell him to stop killing Palestinian people,” Imad Alsoofi, 47, of Dearborn, who voted uncommitted, said outside the Salina school. “We have to bring the money for the American people. The American people right now they are hungry, they are homeless. Why all the money for overseas? American people first.”

In Tuesday's election, the "uncommitted" Democratic vote crushed Biden in Dearborn precincts one through five, which have high percentages of Arab American residents, garnering 85%, 90%, 83%, 84%, 92%, respectively. In those same five precincts, Biden only got 14%, 9%, 16%, 14%, 6%, respectively. Biden had won those precincts in November 2020.

Aside from the political calculations, Arab American voters said they see this as an ethical issue and one that defines their identity as both Americans and Arabs. Dearborn has the highest percentage of Arab Americans among all cities in the U.S. with 55% of its population of Middle Eastern descent. They said that even if Dearborn’s vote alone won’t make too much of a difference statewide, it was important to stand up and do something to help Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis and others facing attacks. Many in Dearborn have family ties to the areas under attack in recent months.

Darany said the "uncommitted" vote won in Dearborn, with Biden garnering 4,526 votes in the 48 precincts. "Uncommitted" got 6,432 votes. An additional 816 people voted "uncommitted" on the Republican ballot, making up 13% of those who voted Republican. One Arab American group had urged people to vote "uncommitted" on the Republican ballot.

Sam Luqman (left) speaks to voters outside Salina Intermediate School on primary election day on Feb. 27, 2024. She was asking voters to vote "uncommitted" on the Republican primary ballot as a protest against President Joe Biden's support for Israel.
Sam Luqman (left) speaks to voters outside Salina Intermediate School on primary election day on Feb. 27, 2024. She was asking voters to vote "uncommitted" on the Republican primary ballot as a protest against President Joe Biden's support for Israel.

Ali Chahine, of Dearborn, was born in the U.S., but like thousands in Dearborn, has family ties to southern Lebanon, where he said Israeli attacks recently struck the homes of a grandparent and relative in the village of Yaroun.

“That’s a direct threat to my family,” Chahine said outside polling sites at McDonald Elementary School, which has two precincts where Arab American voters make up a majority.

Chahine added that his opposition to Biden was also rooted in his American identity.

“We're here as Americans,” he said. “This is being done in our name, our American tax dollars.” Meanwhile, he said, many in America can’t pay their bills because of inflation and economic challenges.

“That money could be used to solve all the problems here,” he said of U.S. money to help Israel’s military.

More: Dearborn protesters say Biden not welcome ahead of campaign visit

Outside McDonald, Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, who urged people to vote uncommitted, spoke to journalists who have flocked to Dearborn in recent months for stories about the state’s Arab American vote. An election official at McDonald said that turnout was higher than usual. In a statement posted after 10 pm Tuesday, Hammoud said "I am overwhelmed by the power of the people, demonstrated today by the number of Michiganders who voted ‘Uncommitted' ... tens of thousands of voters cast their ballots against the continuation of a U.S.-backed genocide in Gaza."

In March 2020, Bernie Sanders crushed Joe Biden 91% to 7% and Sanders won the city of Dearborn overall with 62% of the vote, but Biden won Detroit and the state overall. In November 2020, Biden defeated Trump 69% to 30% in Dearborn with even higher margins in the eastern part of the city where there are greater numbers of Arab American residents.

"In the last election, we voted for him thinking we would have a seat at the table,” Chahine said. “And basically, he spat in our face when it comes to the genocide.”

Outside Salina Intermediate School, one advocate urged Arab Americans to vote “uncommitted” on the Republican ballot while another one handed out fliers urging an “uncommitted” vote on the Democratic ballot. Some who support the uncommitted voting say they will eventually vote for Biden in the fall, such as former U.S. House Rep. Andy Levin, but voters interviewed said they will also reject Biden in the fall.

“My line has already been crossed,” said Sam Luqman, a Dearborn activist who often works to help marginalized communities in Dearborn. “He’s already killed far too many people. … He’s committing the genocide. He is literally sending weapons and money that kill the children and the weapons which are made in America are found near the dead bodies.”

Hussain Ahmed, smiles after voting with his daughters by his sided Abrar Ahmed, 7, and Hasnaa Ahmed, 10, walk with him in the gym at Salina Intermediate School in Dearborn during the presidential primary on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.
Hussain Ahmed, smiles after voting with his daughters by his sided Abrar Ahmed, 7, and Hasnaa Ahmed, 10, walk with him in the gym at Salina Intermediate School in Dearborn during the presidential primary on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

Luqman said that as a mother of children who have Palestinian ancestry, she’s haunted by the videos she’s seen of Palestinian children killed in Gaza. On Tuesday, she was wearing a pair of earrings that were the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Luqman voted for Bernie Sanders in 2020, both in the March primary of that year, and in the fall as a write-in. But she voted Tuesday on the Republican ballot as “uncommitted” to send a double message that she’s rejecting both Biden and the Democrats in general. She added, though, that she does not support any of the Republican candidates running for president.

Luqman said she’s aware Trump and Biden will be the winners of the primary, but she wants to send a message.

“The message I’m trying to send today with my vote is that … not only am I rejecting Biden, but I’m also now considering rejecting the Democratic Party altogether,” Luqman said.

Luqman handed out fliers for a political action committee called ACTPAC (Advocates of Change for Tomorrow- Political Action Committee) that urged voters to choose the Republican ballot and choose “uncommitted.”

Nearby, a 17-year-old handed out fliers for another political action committee, American Arab & Muslim Political Action Committee (AMPAC) that had a similar message, but said to choose the Democratic ballot and vote “uncommitted.”

Another political action committee, the Dearborn-based Arab American Political Action Committee, had fliers that said to vote for anyone besides Biden, or write in “Free Palestine.”

A fourth group recently formed, Listen to Michigan, has been urging voters to pick the Democratic ballot and vote “uncommitted.”

Dearborn City Clerk George Darany told the Free Press he expects to have final election results by 11:30 pm.

Ten miles northeast of Dearborn, in Hamtramck, which has the highest percentage of immigrants among cities in Michigan, residents came out big for the uncommitted vote, according to results provided just after 10 p.m. to the Free Press by City Clerk Faraj.

In the Democratic presidential primary in Hamtramck, 61% of people voted "uncommitted" while only 32% voted for Biden, who had won the city in November 2020. In the Republican presidential primary, 67.5% of Hamtramck voters voted for Trump, 18.4% voted "uncommitted," and 11.8% for Nikki Haley. A total of 1,749 voters in Hamtramck cast ballots, 1,743 for president.

Arab Americans make up 39% of Hamtramck's population, most of them of Yemeni descent, with an additional 29% who are Asian American, a majority of them with roots in Bangladesh. The city has historically leaned Democrat, but some have shifted more recently toward Republicans. Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib has been urging people to vote "uncommitted."

Contact Niraj or X @nwarikoo

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Arab Americans in Dearborn sound off at Michigan primary polls