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Dissatisfied voters in Montana primary consider ‘no preference’ for president

BILLINGS — Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump may be clear favorites in the primaries, but another option is gaining ground in Montana, and voters like 18-year-old Amanda Loiselle of Billings hope it will make a statement in November.

Loiselle, who is studying elementary education at Michigan State University in Billings, spends much of her weekends protesting for her beliefs in front of the Yellowstone County Courthouse.

“When I learned about the dispute between Israel and Hamas, I knew I had to do something. Especially when a war turned into genocide,” Loiselle said in court on Wednesday.

This international conflict had a major impact on the decision of first-time voters in the presidential election.

Alina Hauter/MTN News

Amanda Loiselle at the Yellowstone County Courthouse

“I am a Democrat and therefore registered with the Democratic Party, but given the current situation, I really cannot vote for someone who supports this genocide,” Loiselle said.

She is just one of a growing number of people who are now using their voice as a form of protest by voting with no preference.

“It's like saying, 'I don't like being limited to these two or maybe even three parties.' And you can also look at the individual candidates themselves and say that none of them seem deserving or qualified for this office,” said Dr. Paul Pope, professor of political science at MSU Billings.

Pope said the option to vote without preference has been available in Montana for decades, but argues that today's political climate has made the option more attractive.

“In fact, our political divisions within society at this point are the same as they were before the Civil War,” Pope said.

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Alina Hauter/MTN News

Dr. Paul Pope at MSU Billings

This has led to what is not now seen in Montana and other states with primaries, where non-preferred votes exceeded expectations. In the February Michigan primary, for example, more than 100,000 voters chose “undecided” in the Democratic primary over Biden, hoping to send a signal 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 option can vote for candidates of their choice on the next ballot.

This option is available in almost half of all states.

“From what I've seen, the vast majority of people typically range from about five to 18 to 20 percent,” Pope added.

In 2020, about six percent of Republicans in Montana voted without preference, compared to nearly three percent of Democrats.

“We've seen since 2016 that things have definitely turned negative for Republicans, but we don't yet know how the primaries will play out in the run-up to election season,” Pope said.

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Alina Hauter/MTN News

One of Amanda Loiselle's flags with which she protests

Although he is unsure about how the primaries will play out, Loiselle hopes the message will resonate.

“Maybe this will help people to see what is going on in Palestine and to speak up for the situation in Palestine, because our voices matter. No matter what people say, our voices really matter,” Loiselle said.

If you're interested in learning more about non-preferential voting, Forward Montana and Montana for Palestine will be setting up a booth on the topic at a Pride Month kickoff event on the South Side this Saturday at 2901 Sixth Ave S.

Anna Harden

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