Voting in 2024: Being Committed and Uncommitted at the Same Time

I just mailed in my New York City Democratic primary ballot for the 2024 presidential election. Every two and four years, I have always voted for someone, regularly fulfilling my citizenship privilege even though I have lived in Switzerland for five decades. This time I mailed in my overseas ballot with no ink marks. For the first time in over fifty years voting, I left a ballot blank. I did not mark for Joseph Biden or the two other presidential candidates or the list of Biden delegates to the Democratic Convention.

While Democrats Abroad enthusiastically invited me to be Democratically active – “Dear Daniel, Our Global Presidential Primary week starts on Super Tuesday, March 5th through March 12,” their email reads. “This is an excellent opportunity for Democrats Abroad members to participate in our official, party-run presidential primary” – I am committed to being uncommitted. While I plan to vote in November, I joined the reported 100,000 registered Michigan Democrats and 45,000 in Minnesota who did not vote or voted uncommitted. (Marking uncommitted was not possible on my ballot.) By leaving the ballot blank, I meant to send a message that I find the Biden’s administration’s policies towards Israel morally unacceptable.

Friends are admonishing me about my blank ballot. They remind me of what happened in the presidential election of 2000 when thousands of Florida Democrats voted for a third-party candidate. Votes for Ralph Nader and not Al Gore led to George W. Bush’s election, they rehash. “If you don’t vote for Biden in the general election,” they now warn, “Donald Trump will win with all the horrors that will follow.”

I understand that. I am enough of a pragmatist to realize the consequences of leaving a ballot blank or voting third party. I have always empathized with and admired those who historically voted for progressive third-party candidates such as Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas. In fact, neither of those progressive third-party candidates did very well. Far from it. Debs’ best score was 6.0 percent in 1912. The last time he ran, in 1920, he got 3.4 percent from a prison cell. The third-party votes for Nader were the most decisive in a recent presidential race.

I am aware that voting for my current favorite third-party candidate, Cornel West, will have a negligible effect, except to my ego. I also realize that my questioning how to vote is another privilege since Biden will easily carry New York State where I vote. (American citizens abroad vote according to their last U.S. residence.) My vote is a vote of conscience with no political consequence.

Historically, I am also aware that anger at Democrats over the Vietnam War enabled Richard Nixon to become president in 1968. During the ’68 campaign, a professor of mine kept reminding his students that Lyndon Johnson and Democrats were responsible for the War’s atrocities; hence, we should not vote Democrat.

I am beyond outrage at the current administration and their policy towards Israel. The recent killing of over one hundred Gazans during their desperate attempts to get food is not the last straw leading to my outrage. The latest incident reflects a policy that has dehumanized Gazans and West Bank Arabs for decades. The dehumanization has now become more evident under the Biden administration since October 8.

How to vote to correspond to my outrage? Am I committed enough to the general principle of voting for someone I feel comfortable with, or must I vote for someone who is the lesser of two evils? I am not alone. I believe that tens of thousands if not millions of voters are facing the same question in 2024.

Is there a way for Biden to lessen my outrage? Can he do something in the eight months between now and November 4 to convince me that he and the Democratic Party deserve my vote? (A handful of my expatriate friends have solved this problem by giving up their American citizenship.) How to vote for someone I consider complicit in “plausible” genocide?

I try to imagine scenarios to convince me to vote Democrat. But even if Biden calls Israel’s reaction to October 7 “over the top,” and Kamala Harris calls for “an immediate ceasefire,” it is not enough. The administration has not been publicly confrontational with Prime Minister Netanyahu, nor has it reduced financial aid or military equipment to Israel. And even if the parties did manage to arrange a six-week ceasefire, the release of the most vulnerable Israeli hostages in Gaza, and increased access for aid convoys, I would consider all that too little and too late. I cannot ignore vetoes in the Security Council, the weak reaction to Israel’s blocking aid into Gaza, and defunding UNRWA.

Finally, even if there were a ceasefire, a confirmed two-state solution, the reconstruction of Gaza, a new peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the return of illegally confiscated West Bank territory to their rightful Arab landowners, I would still want some form of retribution for the 30,000 innocent Gazans killed, over a million traumatized, and the wanton destruction in Gaza. In fact, even if Biden steps aside, as Lyndon Johnson did in 1968, I will still hesitate to vote Democrat. Too many Democratic officials have been too pro-Israel for too long.

In fact, it is hard to see how my outrage can be quieted. The best way possible for the Democrats to get my support, I imagine, is not to focus on what Biden and Co. have done and can do, but to continue showing what Trump will do. The Biden campaign is highlighting the Democrats’ accomplishments. The stronger argument is to show what Trump and the Republicans have done and will do if elected. (Similar to 1968 forgetting LBJ and the Vietnam War – “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today?” – and focusing on the Republicans and Richard Nixon.)

Does my outrage outweigh other consequences like a MAGA presidency? Voting for the lesser of two evils is never satisfying. I suspect in November many will either vote for a third-party candidate, leave the ballots blank, or not vote at all. For the moment, I am not committed to any of those possibilities. But that does not mean I am not committed to other principles.

I am committed to voting. I just remain uncommitted about how I will vote.

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.