Democracy Voucher Program 2021 Biennial Report

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, which administers the Democracy Voucher Program, has completed its 2021 Biennial Report on the program.

Over the 2020-2021 period, the program spent a total of $5,347,010; $3,397,050 in program disbursements to campaigns, and $1,949,960 in administration costs. That’s a 36.4% overhead rate.

Participation in the program increased in 2021 over 2019 levels, as measured both by the number of campaigns (11 qualifying candidates) and the number of democracy vouchers returned (184,747).

The report fails to discuss two major issues with the program:

  • While candidates are required to agree to contribution and expenditure limits, in practice they are almost always waived in order to allow the campaigns to match “independent expenditure” (IE) committees’ much higher spending levels. So a major goal of the program, limiting the role of money in local elections, has been thoroughly undermined.
  • A cottage industry has arisen around “harvesting” Democracy Vouchers on behalf of a candidate, where the harvesting company keeps a percentage of the income from the vouchers as its fee. In 2021 one company in particular, Prism, provided ballot harvesting services to multiple candidates. One candidate in particular, Andrew Grant Houston, used Prism to gather a large number of vouchers, while in the end only gaining a tiny fraction of votes in the August primary election. The fact that a candidate reaped democracy vouchers from a far greater number of voters than actually voted for them suggests that ballot harvesting may be pulling the program away from its intent to give voters a way to direct financial support to candidates they intend to vote for.

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