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Dissatisfied primary voters considering 'no preference' for president in Montana

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Posted at 6:25 PM, May 29, 2024

BILLINGS — Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump may be the obvious front runners in the primary election but another option is gaining traction in Montana, one that voters like 18-year-old Amanda Loiselle of Billings hope will send a message come November.

Loiselle, an MSU Billings elementary education major, spends much of her weekends protesting for what she believes in at the Yellowstone County courthouse.

“When I started learning about the Israel-Hamas argument going on, I knew I had to do something. Especially when it went from a war to a genocide,” Loiselle said at the courthouse Wednesday.

That international conflict has made a big impact on the first-time voter's decision in the presidential election.

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Amanda Loiselle at the Yellowstone County Courthouse

“I am a Democrat, so I am registered under the Democratic party but with everything going on, I really cannot vote for somebody who supports this genocide,” Loiselle said.

She's just one of a growing number of people who are now using their vote as a form of protest by voting no preference.

“It’s like a ‘I don’t like being restricted to just these two parties or maybe even three parties.' As well as looking at the individual candidates themselves saying neither of these people appear meritorious or appropriate for this office,” said MSU Billings political science professor Dr. Paul Pope.

Pope said no preference voting has been an option for decades in Montana but argues that today's political climate has made that option more attractive.

“In fact our political division at this point, within society, is equal to what it was leading into the Civil War,” Pope said.

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Dr. Paul Pope at MSU Billings

That's led to what's being seen now not in Montana and other states with primaries, with no preference votes surpassing expectations. In Michigan's February primary, for example,more than 100,000 voters chose "uncommitted" in the Democratic primary instead of Biden with the hope of sending a message about the president's handling of the Middle East conflict.

In Montana, "no preference" is only an option in the presidential race. Voters who choose this can vote for candidates of their choice down ballot.

Almost half of all states have it as an option.

“From what I looked it usually ranges from about five percent to about 18 to 20 percent or so on the mass majority of them,” added Pope.

In 2020, roughly six percent of Montana Republicans voted no preference compared to almost three percent of Democrats.

“We’re now seeing since 2016, it’s definitely switched to more negative impact on Republicans but we don’t know how it’s going to turn out in this primary leading into election season yet,” Pope said.

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One of Amanda Loiselle's flags she uses to protest

Though he's unsure how the primaries will roll out, Loiselle hopes the message will resonate.

“Maybe even this will help people realize what is going on and stand up for what is going on in Palestine ‘cuz our voices do matter. Regardless of what people say, our voices truly do matter," said Loiselle.

If you'd like to learn more about no preference voting, Forward Montana and Montana for Palestine will be setting up a booth at a Pride Month Kickoff event on the subject this Saturday in the South Side at 2901 Sixth Ave S.