Residents spent $1.14 million in “democracy vouchers” on races for City Council and city attorney as Seattle launched its first-in-the-country program, which allows voters to contribute to political candidates using taxpayer money.

Share story

Seattle residents spent $1.14 million in “democracy vouchers” as the city launched its first-in-the-country program this year, according to newly released data.

That’s much less than the $3 million a year in property taxes the city began collecting in 2016 to pay for the vouchers program, which allows voters to contribute to qualifying political candidates using public money. The last day to donate vouchers was Nov. 30.

Residents likely would have spent much more taxpayer money had the vouchers been allowed in the mayoral race. But the vouchers program this time included only races for Seattle City Council and city attorney, because of a clause in the 2015 ballot measure that authorized the program.

The voter-approved measure excluded mayoral candidates from the program until 2021 “to allow accumulation of program funds.” The measure’s authors said they wanted to ensure the city wouldn’t run out of money during the program’s first election cycle.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Would the program have indeed run out of money? And would the vouchers have changed the outcome of the mayoral race, which Jenny Durkan won? It’s impossible to know.

What’s certain is that the group of people who donated vouchers was younger and more diverse than the group of people who gave cash to the mayoral candidates.

Rather than boost the city’s general fund, any unspent money will remain in the program to help pay for vouchers in future races.

The council’s seven district seats will be up for election in 2019, and the vouchers program will expand to mayoral candidates in 2021.

The program, which provides each registered Seattle voter with four $25 vouchers, costs the owner of a $500,000 home about $11.50 a year.

Teresa Mosqueda and Jon Grant, candidates for Position 8, garnered the most support in vouchers. They each raised $300,000, hitting a cap imposed by the program. Mosqueda won their race.

A primary candidate for Position 8, Hisam Goueli, raised $27,550 in vouchers.

In the council’s Position 9 race, incumbent M. Lorena González raised $213,175 in vouchers and defeated challenger Pat Murakami, who raised $152,675.

Incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes raised $147,125 in vouchers. He repelled rival Scott Lindsay, who didn’t take part in the program.

In the end, a total of 18,875 Seattle residents contributed 72,189 vouchers, driving a massive increase in overall political giving.

In 2013, only 8,200 residents gave money to candidates for mayor, city attorney and council, according to a report by Win/Win and Every Voice. This time, more than 25,000 residents donated vouchers and money, the report says.