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Montana presidential primary gives option for 'no preference' votes

No Preference Votes
No Preference for Palestine Yard Sign
Posted at 7:22 PM, May 23, 2024

HELENA — Only two names are appearing on Montana’s presidential primary ballots this year: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. However, voters do have another option.

For 50 years, Montana law has required that voters in the state’s presidential primaries have a choice to vote “no preference” instead of for a candidate.

One group actively encouraging voters to support “no preference” is Montanans 4 Palestine, which has organized protests against Democratic and Republican politicians because of their stances on Israel’s war in Gaza. Several weeks ago, they announced they would campaign for a “no preference” vote in the Democratic primary as a way to protest the Biden administration, saying it hasn’t done enough to stand up against what they describe as a genocide.

“Ultimately, this is an expression of disgust with the president’s policies,” said co-founder Brendan Work.



Last weekend, Montanans 4 Palestine members were knocking on doors in Bozeman and Missoula to get out their message, and Work said they’ll be canvassing again this weekend. They’ve also distributed yard signs in several cities across the state.

Work said they’re making the case voting “no preference” is a low-risk way for people to show they’re unhappy with the administration.

“Biden has already won the nomination pretty much, and this vote is not like a vote for Trump,” he said. “So it's a good way for people to express their feelings – and it's easy to do: It's right on the ballot; it says ‘Joe Biden,’ and ‘no preference.’ And that's an easy choice for a lot of us.”

No Preference for Palestine Yard Sign
A yard sign in Helena urges a "no preference" vote in Montana's Democratic presidential primary, to protest the Biden administration's policies on Gaza.

Work estimates his group has around 300 members, and he says it’s grown significantly since the start of the war in Gaza. He said their initial goal is to get 5,000 “no preference” votes, which he said would demonstrate there’s a “pro-peace constituency” that leaders need to listen to, especially in the closely watched race for Montana’s U.S. Senate seat. Their higher target is to crack 15% of the Democratic primary vote, which would allow for the selection of “no-preference” delegates for the Democratic National Convention. Work said that would likely take 20,000 votes.

This campaign follows visible efforts to encourage “uncommitted” votes in Democratic primaries in a number of other states, including Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin. That vote has often ended up between about 8% and 15%, reaching as high as nearly 19% in Minnesota’s primary and 29% in Hawaii’s caucus. However, Biden has won the overwhelming majority of delegates – projected by national analysts to be more than 3,600, compared with just over 30 uncommitted delegates.

A spokesperson for Biden’s campaign released a statement to MTN Thursday.

“The President believes making your voice heard and participating in our democracy is fundamental to who we are as Americans,” they said. “He shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He's working tirelessly to that end.”

2024 will be the first time in 40 years that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have multiple candidates listed on their Montana primary ballot. In recent election cycles, the highest “no preference” vote totals have generally come when there’s only one candidate on the ballot – like in 2012, when “no preference” got 9.4% of the Democratic primary vote in Barack Obama’s reelection year, and in 2020, when Trump was the only Republican candidate and 6.2% of the vote was for “no preference.”

The largest share of “no preference” votes for both Republicans and Democrats in Montana came in 1992: 16.6% and 24%, respectively.


Montana “No Preference” Vote History:

1976:

Republicans: 2.2%, 1,996 votes
Democrats: 3.6%, 3,820 votes

1980:

Republicans: 3.8%, 3,014 votes
Democrats: 11.9%, 15,466 votes

1984:

Republicans: 7.5%, 5,378 votes
Democrats: 28,385 votes (Montana Democrats held a caucus and no candidates appeared on the primary ballot)

1988:

Republicans: 7.5%, 6,520 votes
Democrats: 3.6%, 4,083 votes

1992:

Republicans: 16.6%, 15,098 votes
Democrats: 24.0%, 28,164 votes

1996:

Republicans: 7.2%, 8,533 votes
Democrats: 10.0%, 9,176 votes

2000:

Republicans: 4.1%, 4,655 votes
Democrats: 22.1%, 19,447 votes

2004:

Republicans: 5.6%, 6,340 votes
Democrats: 7.4%, 6,899 votes

2008:

Republicans: 2.4%, 2,333 votes
Democrats: 2.4%, 4,358 votes

2012:

Republicans: 3.8%, 5,456 votes
Democrats: 9.4%, 8,270 votes

2016:

Republicans: 4.7%, 7,369 votes
Democrats: 4.2%, 5,415 votes

2020:

Republicans: 6.2%, 13,184 votes
Democrats: 2.8%, 4,250 votes