by Rob Whitehead
If you’re registered to vote in the city of Seattle, you probably already have your Democracy Vouchers. Here’s some quick info about them.
What are they? Who can I give them to?
You can give your Democracy Vouchers to any city attorney or city council candidate who is participating in the Democracy Voucher Program. When a candidate agrees to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program, it means they agree to specific campaign spending limits, donation limits, public debate requirements, and they must also collect a number of signatures and small donations in order to qualify to receive Democracy Vouchers.
You can split your Democracy Vouchers between multiple candidates, or give all four $25 vouchers to one candidate. You can’t give them to your friend to spend–in fact, you can’t give them to your friend at all, unless your friend is a participating candidate. The list of candidates who are participating is here.
Some candidates have already finished qualifying, but some are still collecting signatures and donations. You can send your vouchers to candidates who haven’t finished qualifying yet, but they won’t get the money until they finish collecting signatures. Don’t put off handing in your vouchers; the pool that funds them is finite and vouchers will be redeemed by campaigns on a first-come, first-served basis.
How do I use them?
First, fill them out and sign them. Then, you can return them in any one of these four ways:
- Mail them directly to a candidate’s campaign, or bring them to the candidate’s office in person. Most candidates post their contact information on their websites, and a list of participating candidates and their websites can be found here.
- Send them to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Office. You probably got a prepaid envelope with them so you can do exactly that.
- Drop them off at their physical office at 700 5th Ave, Suite 4010
- Email a photo/scan/pdf of them (both sides) to [email protected]
- Drop them off at one of a number of customer service centers. The full list is available here.
I lost mine…what then?
You can call 206-727-8855 or e-mail [email protected] to request replacement vouchers. You will be asked to provide your name, date of birth, and mailing address. The city can send you a PDF version of your Democracy Vouchers or mail you a new set to your address.
Why do they exist? Where does the money come from?
The money comes from a small property tax increase (about $11.50 per homeowner per year). The idea behind Initiative 122, which brought this program into existence, was to encourage candidates to run their campaigns in a more ethical way, and to encourage them to seek grassroots, democratic support, rather than special interest money.
Will it work? Who knows! It’s the first election we’ve had since program started, and it seems to be going pretty well so far– we have a wealth of candidates, and most seem to be genuinely interested in building wide support from ordinary people like us.
Campaign contributions have power. Unfortunately, that power is denied to the poor. To illustrate this point, in March 2017, former Tenants Union executive and Seattle DSA-endorsed City Council candidate Jon Grant said, “Seattle has been particularly cruel to its homeless community members by constantly sweeping encampments. If the homeless were brought into the political process and could access democracy vouchers to fund candidates who fight for their interests Seattle might start taking a more compassionate approach.”
The Democracy Voucher program isn’t a cure-all for getting corporate and moneyed donors’ funds out of public elections, but it’s a good first step toward reducing the power of wealth in politics and increasing the power of people who couldn’t otherwise contribute to campaigns.