City of Seattle – Democracy Voucher Program – Public Campaign Finance

What if you were given $100 that you could use to support local candidates of your choice running for office in your community? In Seattle, more than 480,000 residents were given four $25 vouchers they could give to candidates running for local office. The goals of the program are to increase the number of residents donating to local campaigns and to encourage residents to run for local office.

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Prior to the Democracy Voucher Program, about 1% of Seattle residents donated to support local candidates running for office. Now, after just two election cycles with the Democracy Voucher Program, 8% of Seattle residents are contributing to local campaigns.

Additionally, running for office is expensive, and fundraising may prohibit some from running. Public campaign financing allows candidates to spend more time directly engaging with residents and less time fundraising.

The Democracy Voucher Program was one of several campaign finance reforms passed by the citizen-led initiative “Honest Elections Seattle” (I-122), which was approved by voters in 2015. Voters also approved a $3 million per year property tax for 10 years to create a public funding source. Through this funding, residents can support local candidates running for office or to finance their own campaigns.

At the beginning of each election year, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission sends eligible Seattle residents Democracy Vouchers by mail. Residents then assign one or more vouchers to candidates who they’d like to support. Residents may return their vouchers using the postage-paid envelope included with their vouchers or give their vouchers directly to the campaign.

The purpose of the program is to increase the number of residents who donate to local campaigns and to increase the number of candidates who run in local elections. Residents benefit from this program by using Democracy Vouchers as a platform to amplify their political voices in Seattle. Candidates, instead of relying on traditional methods of campaigning by calling the existing pool of donors, can knock on almost any door in Seattle and ask for a donation in the form of a Democracy Voucher. For residents, Democracy Vouchers offer an opportunity to communicate directly with candidates.

Seattle is the first and only city in the U.S., if not the world, with this type of public campaign financing.

In 2019, the SEEC launched the Democracy Voucher Online Portal as an option for residents to electronically assign their vouchers to their preferred candidates. This online option provides another tool and method for engaging residents in the political process.

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Year: 2017
Level of government: Local government

Status:

  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

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