Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher Program is reducing the power of big money and giving everyday people a bigger voice in local elections, according to initial analysis of the system in this year’s municipal elections by the Seattle-based Win/Win Network and national money-in-politics reform group Every Voice Center.
In 2015, Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved the Honest Elections Seattle ballot initiative by a 63 percent to 37 percent vote to create the first-in-the-nation Democracy Voucher Program. In 2017, the program went into effect for the first time, distributing four $25 Democracy Vouchers to every Seattle resident for use in two at-large city council races and the contest for city attorney. The program will expand to other races including the race for mayor in future election cycles.
To qualify to spend the vouchers, candidates agreed to only accept small donations of $250 or less, raise a threshold number of small contributions, gather signatures, and agree to limit their campaign spending. Use of the program was widespread in 2017, with 13 out of the 17 candidates in the primary election agreeing to participate, and six of them meeting the qualification requirements to redeem the vouchers. Five out of the six contestants in these races who advanced to the general election ran using Democracy Vouchers.
As the following analysis details, Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is achieving its intended goals by generating historic numbers of new and small donors, diversifying the makeup of campaign supporters to better reflect the people of Seattle, and limiting the reliance on big money in local elections.