That was the upshot of a Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee meeting Wednesday. The chair had several questions about the plan but, also, not enough members attended the meeting for a vote.
It’s highly unlikely that labor unions and other groups will be authorized to distribute replacement “democracy vouchers” in Seattle political races this fall.
That was the upshot of a Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee meeting Wednesday, according to the commission’s chair, Eileen Norton.
Three unions and a labor-backed advocacy group wrote to the commission last week, asking for permission to hand out replacement vouchers before the city’s Nov. 7 primary election.
Joined in their quest Wednesday by additional unions and some community organizations, they say they want to help boost participation in Seattle’s voucher program.
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The first of its kind in the nation, the program gives each registered voter $100 in taxpayer-funded vouchers to donate to the candidate or candidates of choice. People who aren’t registered voters can apply for vouchers, as well. Only candidates for council and city attorney — not mayor — are part of the program this year.
Many people have lost or discarded the vouchers since they were mailed out in January, so the commission is providing replacements, which can be requested by phone, by completing an online form or by sending an email. The commission vets the requests and then mails or emails the replacement ballots.
For another option, the commission this spring created a single document that allows candidates and their representatives to both provide people with replacement vouchers and collect them on the spot.
There’s no chance of unions and other third-party organizations being authorized to collect vouchers because that would be donation bundling, an activity prohibited by state law.
But the groups say they should at least be able to distribute replacements.
They say many low-income and marginalized people lack the resources needed to request replacement vouchers, receive them via mail or email, sign them in hard-copy form and then submit them. Some people don’t have their own computers and printers. Some don’t have consistent mailing addresses.
The groups say the main point of the vouchers is to get more ordinary people involved in politics.
The seven-member commission took up the issue Wednesday but couldn’t vote because only four members were present.
Norton said a vote would have been premature, anyway. The skeptical commission chair raised several questions, including whether third-party distribution would advance a key goal of the vouchers program — encouraging candidates to interact with people of modest means.
“I’m not comfortable with moving quickly on making a decision,” Norton said. “I’m not saying down the road we wouldn’t do it, but I don’t see us making this decision quickly.”
Joe Mizrahi, political director for the supermarket-workers union UFCW 21, left the meeting disappointed.
“The access issues that low-wage workers and otherwise disenfranchised communities are facing are just not going to be solved this election,” Mizrahi said.