Roughly 32,000 Seattle residents have assigned taxpayer-funded democracy vouchers to City Council candidates this year, which means hundreds of thousands haven’t yet done so.
If you’ve been waiting to take part in the program, you may have heard that some candidates have maxed out on vouchers and you may be wondering what that means for you. Below we answer some questions on the topic.
What are democracy vouchers?
Each eligible Seattle resident can assign up to four $25 vouchers to candidates participating in the program, and the candidates can redeem the vouchers for actual cash.
The program is supported by a property-tax levy that voters approved in 2015 and that is collecting $30 million over 10 years.
The city mailed paper vouchers to all registered voters in February, and residents who aren’t voters can apply to take part. You can return your hard-copy vouchers to a candidate’s campaign or to the city in person, by mail, by fax or by email. You also can assign your vouchers online.
You can request replacement vouchers and choose to receive them either in the mail as hard copies or via email as an online code.
Why have some candidates maxed out on democracy vouchers?
In order to participate in the program, candidates have to agree to special spending and contribution limits. For example, council candidates can redeem no more than $150,000 in vouchers this year.
Eight candidates in the Nov. 5 general election have already collected $150,000 in vouchers, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). Those candidates are: Lisa Herbold, Tammy Morales, Egan Orion, Alex Pedersen, Shaun Scott, Dan Strauss, Heidi Wills and Jim Pugel.
The $150,000 limit exists so the city doesn’t run out of money, said the SEEC’s executive director, Wayne Barnett. If no such limit existed and all eligible Seattle residents assigned their vouchers, the city would need to come up with much more cash than the levy is raising.
How do you know which candidates have maxed out?
That information is available on the SEEC’s website, along with other information about the participating candidates.
What happens when you assign a voucher to a candidate who has maxed out?
When you assign a voucher to a candidate who has already collected $150,000 in vouchers, the city’s system will record your support for the candidate but the candidate won’t be able to redeem your voucher for cash.
Why doesn’t the city warn you about or stop you from assigning vouchers to candidates who have maxed out?
It might be relatively easy for the city to warn or stop residents during the process of assigning vouchers online. Residents assigning their vouchers through the mail, however, would need to be warned or notified through the mail, Barnett said.
“There would be costs associated with that,” he said.
In addition, some residents may want to assign their vouchers simply to demonstrate support for candidates, Barnett said.