Seattle ethics committee restricts collection of democracy vouchers | Jan. 11-17, 2023

Seattle ethics committee restricts collection of democracy vouchers | Jan. 11-17, 2023

The Seattle Elections and Ethics Commission (SEEC) changed the city’s Democratic Voucher program, limiting the ability of paid campaign workers to collect vouchers, a move that campaigns say could reduce the system’s impact.

The Democracy Voucher Program, which was approved by voters in 2015, awards four $25 vouchers to eligible Seattle residents who can donate to candidates for city council, city attorney and mayor or by given directly to a campaign or by mailing them to SEEC. There is also an option to electronically redeem coupons.

The rollout of the program was staggered for different offices. City Council races became eligible first in 2017, followed by all races in 2019 and 2021.

In exchange for participating in the program, campaigns must agree to stricter spending and contribution limits. The goal of the program is to increase participation in municipal elections.

If people lose their coupons, they can get replacement coupon forms. Under the amendment, campaign staff can no longer collect those replacement coupon forms during business hours, making it more difficult to search for coupons. Previously, staff could collect replacement forms from potential contributors. This made it easy for supporters to give their vouchers immediately to a campaign. Now, supporters must submit a substitution form to a volunteer or directly to the city, either by mail or online.

The commission also reaffirmed rules implemented in June 2021 that require campaign staff or volunteers who collect coupons to clearly disclose their role to potential donors. These changes will affect the seven City Council district elections to be held later this year.

According to SEEC executive director Wayne Barnett, these changes were made after an influx of allegations of “voucher harvesting” by campaigns. He said the commission decided to impose these restrictions in order to address the backlash and maintain the integrity of the democracy voucher program.

The program will soon be renewed because the property tax that funds it expires in 2025. Barnett said the Democracy Voucher program has faced a lot of opposition from groups such as the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and that he would hate to see it she dies.

In 2021, The Stranger reported that staff working for former mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston were criticized for fraudulently collecting coupons. One complainant said a collector had submitted the voucher replacement form as a signature to “support the homeless”.

However, these changes could make it much more difficult for the democracy voucher program to achieve its intended goal of increasing civic participation and reducing the influence of the wealthy. Chetan Soni, a campaign consultant currently working on Matthew Mitnick’s campaign for Seattle’s District 4 City Council seat, said concerns about voucher collection are misplaced.

“I think there is no such thing as democracy vouchers being misused because they come directly from the hands of the people to the candidates,” he said.

Soni said that in the 2021 campaigns he worked on, the coupons were collected fairly and transparently, and that the campaigns verified the signatures and addresses of the coupons they received. He said collectors deserve to be respected and paid fairly for their hard work. In his experience, Soni said the vast majority of coupons collected directly from campaigns were via replacement forms as opposed to original coupons.

Early data suggests the program could have a positive effect on the Seattle election. In a May 2022 study co-authored by University of Washington professor Alan Griffith, researchers said the democracy voucher program contributed to an increase in voter turnout. They found that, between the 2017 and 2019 elections, the number of unique donors increased by more than 350 percent, with small campaign contributions under $200 nearly tripling. The researchers also argued that the number of candidates increased by 86 percent, reducing the likelihood that incumbents would win re-election.

However, restrictions on the collection of vouchers may end up defeating the intended purpose of the program, making it more difficult for people who are not usually involved in the political process to participate.

“White middle-class people, upper-middle-class people generally have access to and pay more attention to the democracy vouchers that come in than low-income people, BIPOC, renters, students, people who are already marginalized in these conversations,” said Soni. “With these new rules, it makes their voice less heard just because the replacement forms are more accessible and people should be able to access the election – in this case the democracy vouchers – as easily as possible. possible life. And replacement forms do just that.”

Guy Oron is a staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.

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