The city will mail the vouchers in March of each election year rather than in January and will no longer automatically mail the vouchers to inactive voters, among other changes.
The Seattle City Council made changes Monday to the city’s first-in-the-nation “democracy vouchers” program intended to make it more fair and efficient.
The city will now mail the vouchers in March of each election year rather than in January, will no longer automatically mail the vouchers to inactive voters and will allow the vouchers to be submitted to King County Elections drop boxes, among other changes.
The groundbreaking vouchers program — funded by a 10-year, $30 million property-tax levy that Seattle voters approved in 2015 — garnered a lot of attention last year and appeared to help diversify the pool of political donors in the city’s elections. It debuted in the 2017 elections.
Registered voters were mailed four $25 vouchers to donate to their preferred candidates for City Council and city attorney, with candidates for mayor initially left out.
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Voucher donors were more likely to have lower incomes, be young and be people of color, compared with donors in the mayor’s race, according to an analysis by liberal nonprofits that labeled the program a success. Altogether, $1.14 million in vouchers were redeemed.
The changes cleared by the council Monday are aimed at making the vouchers program work better the next time around.
When the vouchers were mailed in January 2017, some candidates had yet to launch their campaigns. Starting in 2019, the vouchers will be mailed in March.
The city spent more than $34,000 last year mailing vouchers to about 55,000 inactive voters, and only 29 of those voters returned any. From now on, only active voters automatically will receive the vouchers.
King County Elections will allow its ballot drop boxes to be used for collecting vouchers, director Julie Wise told the council earlier this month. Vouchers also may be submitted to a campaign or to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
Candidates qualify for the vouchers by collecting a set number of contributions and signatures — a requirement some had trouble meeting.
A change Monday will clarify that candidates can obtain the contributions and signatures from different people.
The program will next be used in 2019, when the council’s seven district seats will be up for election. In 2021, the vouchers will apply to the mayor’s race for the first time, along with races for city attorney and the council’s two citywide seats.
The voucher program was established in 2015 as part of the Honest Elections Seattle ballot measure, which also lowered contribution limits and barred contractors from writing checks to candidates.
Though proponents said it would get big money out of city elections, large corporations continued to spend in 2017, contributing to political-action and independent-expenditure committees.