The Seattle "democracy voucher" program was approved in a 2015 citywide referendum. Municipal elections in 2017 were the first year the program was implemented. It is the first program of its kind in the United States.
Under the program, each registered voter in Seattle received four $25 vouchers which they were eligible to give to any eligible candidates standing for election to municipal office (other Seattle residents who would normally be eligible to donate to campaigns could request vouchers as well). To be eligible, candidates must have
- already raised between $1,500 and $6,000 from a minimum number of donors;
- agreed to campaign finance restrictions, including accepting no more than $250 of non-voucher funds from any individual contributor (or $500 for candidates standing for the office of mayor), and
- agreed to cap campaign spending to a determined limit. In addition, participating candidates must not have received any contributions from a person or organization with more than $250,000 in service contracts with the city. People who are not eligible to vote, such as permanent residents, were also eligible.
The program was funded by a $3 million citywide increase in the real estate tax. The system was "first come, first served", with just 47,000 vouchers honored. A similar plan was put forward by 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang. "Democracy Dollars" as the plan was called would give each registered voter $100 to put towards the political campaign of their choice annually.
Pro and con
Supporters argue that the program makes campaign donors more representative of the overall population, lets candidates fundraise for competitive campaigns without relying on big money, and limits the influence of special interests over elected officials.
Opponents claimed that, because the vouchers would be distributed ten months before the general election and were assigned on a "first come, first served" basis, the program would largely benefit incumbent political candidates rather than challengers, because the latter typically launch their campaigns at a later date than incumbents. As a result, incumbents might receive all funds from the program, with available money completely depleted by the time challengers were able to organize campaigns.
- "City of Seattle Restrictions on Campaign Finance and Elections, Initiative Measure No. 122 (November 2015)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved 2020-12-15.
- Young, Bob (November 3, 2015). "'Democracy vouchers' win in Seattle; first in country". Seattle Times. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- "Democracy vouchers coming to Seattle mailboxes soon". KING-TV. December 7, 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
- Berman, Russell (November 10, 2015). "Seattle's Experiment With Campaign Funding". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- "Information for Seattle Residents - DemocracyVoucher | seattle.gov". www.seattle.gov. Retrieved 2020-12-15.
- "Democracy Voucher Program: How to Qualify as a Candidate" (PDF). seattle.gov. City of Seattle. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- Ryan, John (October 25, 2016). "$100 in Monopoly money—and just maybe, a better democracy—headed your way, Seattle". KUOW-FM. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- "Who Funds Seattle's Political Candidates?". Sightline Institute. 2015-07-22. Retrieved 2020-12-15.
- "Democracy Policy Network". democracypolicy.network. Retrieved 2020-12-15.
- Democracy voucher program City of Seattle website