One of Seattle’s many progressive experiments, the Democracy Voucher program proved effective for balancing the scales between everyday people with limited money for campaign donations and large companies with more than enough to support their candidate of choice.
Around 25,000 Seattleites made campaign contributions. Driving the big tally, 18,000 Seattle residents gave nearly 70,000 Democracy Vouchers to 2017 candidates. For comparison, roughly 8,200 donated in 2013.
“Seattle voters put in place the Democracy Voucher Program to make local government more accountable to the people of Seattle, and so far, it’s working,” said Tam Doan, research and policy director at Every Voice Center. “As billionaire donors play an increasingly larger role in national politics, Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is a promising example and a reminder for the rest of the nation that if we choose to use them, we have the tools necessary to reduce the power of big money and give everyday people a bigger voice in our political system.”
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Analysis from the national Every Voice group and Seattle Win/Win Network shows an estimated 84% of this election’s donors were new— “about 20,900 individuals who had not contributed to city candidates in the 2015 or 2013 cycles.”
The composition of the candidates’ monetary pool also changed dramatically. 87% of the support for campaigns eligible to receive the vouchers came from small donations of $250 or less and Democracy Vouchers. Small donations accounted for just 48% of the money backing candidates for city council and city attorney in 2013.
Women, lower-income communities, and communities of color contributed more than previous elections as well. But this election cycle with advocate Nikkita Oliver and others also turned out a more diverse pool of voters. So this change in contributions could also be in part due to the context of the mayoral race itself.
In 2015, Seattle voters approved the Democracy Voucher Program, a first-of-its-kind local election law that enacted a property tax levy to fund a voluntary public financing system of giving eligible residents four $25 democracy vouchers that they can then give to candidates. In January, registered voters began receiving their vouchers in the mail. Seattle residents who are at least 18 years old and are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident can apply online for vouchers. Each voucher has the election year, resident’s name, a voucher identification number, plus a voter ID number and barcode to help with signature verification. All contributions are public information.
The system launched limiting the program to only the candidates running for Seattle City Council and City Attorney. The mayoral race will not be eligible for the program until 2021 as the voucher fundraising limits are higher and the program needs more time to accumulate funds.