Some local unions are asking to be allowed to distribute replacement “democracy vouchers” to Seattle voters, such as their members.
Three unions and a labor-backed advocacy group are asking for permission to distribute replacement “democracy vouchers” in Seattle political races.
The organizations say they want to help boost participation in the city’s first-in-the-nation program, which gives each registered voter $100 in taxpayer-funded vouchers to donate to the campaigns of the candidate or candidates they like best.
Slated for consideration Wednesday by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, the request marks the latest in a series of questions about how to run the novel program and could change a hotly contested City Council contest.
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Only candidates for council and city attorney — not mayor — are part of the program this year. Voters submit the vouchers to the commission either directly or via the campaigns.
But the commission has needed to work out some program details on the fly.
For example, many voters promptly threw out or lost the vouchers they were mailed back in January. So the commission is offering replacements. Voters can request them by phone, by completing an online form, or by sending an email.
The commission vets the requests, then mails or emails the replacement vouchers.
To make things easier, the commission this spring created a single document that allows campaigns to both provide voters with replacement vouchers and collect them.
A voter provides his or her personal information, and a campaign representative signs the document as well. Then the campaign submits it to the commission.
Letting candidates replace vouchers was a good move, according to SEIU 1199NW, SEIU 775, UFCW 21 — union locals that represent hospital workers, nursing-home and home-health workers and supermarket workers, respectively.
But the unions, and advocacy group Working Washington, now also want to play a role. They want permission to hand out, though not collect, replacement vouchers.
“The current process disproportionately makes it harder for low-income populations to participate,” they wrote to the commission Aug. 30.
There’s no chance of third-party organizations being allowed to collect replacement vouchers, for the same reason they can’t collect the vouchers mailed in January.
State law prohibits bundling — the process in which campaign contributions are collected from donors by a third party, then provided in bulk to a campaign.
Only individual representatives of campaigns can collect and submit the vouchers.
But the unions argue they should be allowed to distribute replacements, because the city law that covers the voucher program doesn’t explicitly prohibit it.
When a replacement voucher is needed, according to the law, the commission “shall require a notarized declaration or affidavit or additional process in its judgment to find the relevant facts then provide relief it deems appropriate.”
One point for the commission to consider is whether the “additional process” provision is broad enough to permit third-party distribution, said Wayne Barnett, the commission’s executive director.
Another point is whether third-party distribution would advance the goals of the program.
The vouchers are supposed to increase voter engagement in the political process — to get more ordinary people involved. The unions say they can be part of that.
“Candidates tend to target only registered voters with a strong voting history, and people who live in neighborhoods that are canvassable or who they meet at events or fundraisers,” the unions wrote.
“This law was intended to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard, regardless of their income level or political status within our city … And yet because we do not have access to have the same replacement form the campaigns have we cannot help our members participate in the program in one simple step.”
The vouchers also are supposed to help grass-roots candidates compete with established candidates and are meant to encourage more interactions between candidates and ordinary people.
In 2015, I-122 opponents warned the program could end up increasing the political power already wielded by large membership organizations.
Some candidates are putting the program to good use and stirring excitement about the vouchers nationwide.
Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda, the general-election candidates for Position 8 on the council, have together raised more than $250,000 from voters who might not have otherwise given to campaigns at all.
SEIU 1199NW, SEIU 775 and UFCW 21 all have endorsed Mosqueda.
Skeptics note that political-action committees are pouring dollars into Seattle races despite promises that the vouchers would get big money out.
Meanwhile, police are investigating council candidate Sheley Secrest after an allegation that she attempted to defraud the vouchers program.