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Peoria Township voters reject adding Israeli military funding question to November ballot

Peoria Township residents stand up to vote against the Israel military funding ballot measure question.
Mike Smith
Peoria Township residents stand up to vote against the Israel military funding ballot measure question.

Peoria Township voters will not to weigh in on U.S. military funding for Israel this November.

Registered voters in Peoria Township gathered at City Hall Tuesday evening voted against the proposed ballot question on that subject, 93-67.

Every registered voter in the township gets a vote on whether to add ballot questions at annual town meetings like Tuesday's, as long as they were registered to vote in the township at least 28 days prior and present an ID for residency verification. It's a rare form of limited direct democracy enshrined into Illinois law.

The ballot question would have allowed Peorians to voice their opposition toward sending federal military funding to Israel. Here's the question in its entirety:

“Shall the United States federal government and subordinate divisions stop giving military funding to Israel which currently costs taxpayers 3.8 billion dollars a year, given Israel’s global recognition as an apartheid regime with a track record of human rights violations?”

The question was spurred by the Israel-Hamas War that started on Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas fired rockets from Gaza and killed about 1,200 people in Israel. The terrorist group also kidnapped 250 Israelis.

As previously reported, the measure was backed by Peoria for Palestine, an activist group that unsuccessfully urged the Peoria City Council to adopt a Gaza ceasefire resolution during nearly three hours of public comment at a February city council meeting. After the meeting, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali issued a statement declaring a stance of neutrality.

"Peoria is not Chicago. We cannot afford to allow this international issue to divide our city or our communities," Ali said.

Some Peorians opposed the ballot question based on the phrasing of the question alone. David Nathan, a Peoria Township resident who didn’t intend on speaking initially, raised this point, saying the ballot question is framed with bias.

“This question is unvetted, unverified, biased, and written in a way to actually get a response that does not reflect what the people believe, and therefore, I think it has no place on a ballot in Peoria,” Nathan said.

Mark Lang, another Peorian who voted against the measure, agreed with Nathan, saying the framing of the Israeli government and military as an apartheid regime skews the question.

“If this said, ‘we want peace,’ I think we’d all say yes,” Lang said. “Let the government determine who they fund and how they do it by how we vote and what we vote for. But this is not a call for peace. This is calling out anger, and is very misrepresentative.”

After the measure failed, members of Peoria for Palestine spoke outside city hall. Imam Mazhar Mahmood, the activist group’s president, expressed his disappointment with the vote and called it “anti-democratic.”

“A vote to not put an item onto the November ballot to suppress voices and the actual thoughts of what Peorians perhaps want to vote for or want to vote against, for that matter, that in itself is anti-democratic,” Mahmood said.

He continued, saying the vote was exclusive to people who gathered their communities at City Hall, even suggesting that could include Zionists. However, he mainly said it was a numbers game, and they didn’t have the support.

Many Peorians, including council member Zach Oyler, said the township was not the correct place for the referendum question.

“I’m a firm believer that we have a lane to stay in and a role and responsibility in government… and this is not an issue for the town and city of Peoria,” Oyler said. “This is a federal issue. We elect people at a federal level to make decisions to receive the information to vet those decisions and come to a conclusion, and that’s where this should lie.”

He encouraged people to instead call their representatives.

Peoria for Palestine President Mazhar Mahmood responds to questions from the media outside of City Hall after the ballot question failed.
Mike Smith
Peoria for Palestine President Mazhar Mahmood responds to questions from the media outside of City Hall after the ballot question failed.

Mahmood disagreed, saying Peoria taxpayers dollars are among those used to fund Israel, making the issue worth addressing locally as well.

While the measure ultimately failed, what comes next for the activist group? Justin Leuba said the group is hosting a vigil outside of Peoria’s City Hall Friday to read the names of who they call "Palestinian martyrs." That event will take place from sunrise to sunset.

“We think we will get to about 10.5 thousand names, which is nowhere near the actual death toll, but of course, that is a testament in itself," they said.

Following the vigil, Leuba said the group will march to the riverfront. They said the group arranged for the Murray Baker Bridge to light up with Palestinian colors.

Ranked-choice voting question approved

Not all ballot questions failed to get the votes. Tuesday evening’s township meeting also saw Peorians vote 99-56 in favor of adding a question to the Nov. 7 ballot asking voters whether Illinois should adopt ranked-choice voting.

Sheldon Schafer of the Peoria Area Green Party was the measure’s spokesperson. He made the case for adding the ballot question, arguing that ranked-choice voting is one of several election reforms needed in Illinois.

Council member Oyler openly opposed the ballot question.

“Thirty years of cumulative voting in the City of Peoria at large election has proven that we do not change outcomes based on manipulating the voting scheme,” Oyler said. “It should be one vote by one voter for one candidate, and I do not see this being a beneficial tool for voting in our public bodies.”

Alaska elected Democrat Mary Peltola to the U.S. House in 2022 under the state's new ranked-choice voting system. Alaska Public Media reported proponents believe ranked-choice voting reduces extremism and increases civility in politics, while the system garnered criticism from many conservatives, who say outcomes don't reflect true voter preferences.

Updated: April 10, 2024 at 1:35 PM CDT
Updated to reflect Justin Leuba uses they/them pronouns.
Mike Smith is an correspondent with WCBU in Peoria. He joined the station in 2023.