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Everything You Need to Know About Using Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers

WashPIRG's Guide to Having Your Voice Heard
Last updated: 7/22/2019

Introduction

56 candidates are running for Seattle City Council this year, making it one of the most competitive elections the city has seen in years. With only three incumbents running for the seven district seats, change is guaranteed. City Council makes decisions on major issues that affect Seattleites’ daily lives, from housing affordability and the homelessness crisis to public transit and much more.

This is the second election using the Democracy Voucher program. Have you been wondering how to use your Vouchers? Have you lost track of yours since they were mailed out? Are you curious about the best timing to redeem your Vouchers, or why we have this program in the first place? Read on to find out why Democracy Vouchers are a powerful way of making our voices heard, and how to use yours.

What are Democracy Vouchers?

The Democracy Voucher program is a unique system to give Seattle residents more power over our local elections.

The Voucher program was created by Seattle voters as part of the Honest Elections Seattle ballot initiative in 2015, which passed with a 25 point margin. WashPIRG staff and volunteers helped pass the initiative by collecting signatures for it to qualify for the ballot, and building support before the vote.

Before city elections, eligible Seattle residents are mailed four vouchers worth $25 each which they can donate to any participating candidate. Those candidates must follow program rules, which include: not accepting donations larger than $250 from any individual or organization (not including their voucher contributions); spending limits for the primary and general campaigns; and participation in at least three public debates. The program is administered by the independent Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC).

Why should I use Democracy Vouchers?

Democracy Vouchers help give everyday Seattleites more power over our local elections. By making contributions to your preferred candidates, you can help support their campaigns months before casting your ballot. And because participating candidates agree to individual contribution limits and overall spending limits, the program reduces the influence of wealthy special interests in our elections.

The proof of this is in the program’s first use, during the at-large Council elections in 2017. In that race, more campaign donations were made than any previous year -- a 300% increase from the last comparable election! Nearly $1.14 million was distributed to candidates through Vouchers, and five of the six candidates in the general election participated in the program.

This increase in contributions included high participation by young people, people of color, and low-income residents -- communities which are historically less likely to make political donations.

Fundraising from small donors, including through Democracy Vouchers, encourages candidates to spend more time with constituents. Those conversations help guide candidates’ positions and priorities. When candidates are able to run viable campaigns by relying on donations from Democracy Voucher users and small donors, the result is a City Council that is more accountable to all of their constituents, not just those who are able to write large checks. 

Who is eligible to use Vouchers?

All Seattle residents over the age of 18 are eligible to receive and use Vouchers -- you don’t have to be a registered voter or a citizen! This includes U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents (green card holders).

You are not eligible to receive Vouchers if you are registered to vote outside of Seattle.

How do I get my Vouchers?

Democracy Vouchers were mailed to all Seattle registered voters in February. If you’ve misplaced yours, don’t worry -- you can order replacements through the Voucher program website.

If you are a permanent resident or not a registered voter, but eligible to receive Vouchers, you can also apply on the program website.

Alternatively, you can skip the paper Vouchers! Starting this year, the program has an online portal. You need to create an account to get started.

For any questions about using your Vouchers, you can contact the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission at the contact info below. They are happy to work with you so you can make your voice heard.

How do I use my Vouchers?

Physical Vouchers need to be assigned to a participating candidate, signed by you, and dated. Once your Voucher is completed, there are many options to return them, including:

  • Mail or hand it directly to a candidate or their representative. Some campaigns will collect Vouchers while canvassing

  • Mail it to the SEEC office using the pre-paid envelope sent with your Vouchers. Or use your own envelope, addressed to:

    • Democracy Voucher Program

    • P.O. Box 35196 

    • Seattle, WA 98124-5196 

  • Email a PDF or photo of the front and back of the Vouchers to democracyvoucher@seattle.gov

  • Fax the front and back of your Vouchers to the SEEC at (206) 684-8590.

  • Drop off at the SEEC’s office downtown, City Hall, one of Seattle’s 27 public libraries, or one of the six customer service centers around the city

Alternatively, you can redeem your Vouchers through the online portal, new this year!

Information about all of the City Council candidates, including those not participating in the Voucher program, is available in 15 languages on the SEEC website.

When should I use my Vouchers?

All candidates have now entered the race and announced whether or not they intend to participate in the Democracy Voucher program. There is no right or wrong answer to when to use your Vouchers. However, this is a very competitive election, so redeeming them before the primary in August gives your preferred candidate more resources to progress to the general election. Additionally, some candidates are approaching their spending limits, and if you wait too long your candidate may not be able to accept your Vouchers.

Where can I find more information?

The SEEC has more resources, including a FAQ page, on their website. For any further questions, you can contact their office at democracyvoucher@seattle.gov or 206-727-8855.

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