Ethics and Elections Commission proposes reforms to democracy voucher program

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, which oversees the Democracy Voucher program, is considering two rules changes for the program in an effort to curb what it considers a “corrosive” practice: paying outside companies to harvest democracy vouchers.

The DV harvesters leverage the existence of a simple form that one can fill out to order replacements to their democracy vouchers if they have lost or misplaced them — and at the same time have them directed to a specific candidate. The harvesters will set up shop in a public place, often at a campaign tent, and encourage passersby to fill out the form. Nearly $3.4 million in democracy vouchers were collected by candidates in last year’s elections, and several candidates used paid harvesters to collect them. Paid harvesters are usually compensated on performance: the more DVs they collect, the more they get paid.

Under the newly-proposed rule, paid collection of replacement-voucher forms will be prohibited. Paid staff could still potentially go door-to-door collecting the original democracy vouchers from residents, but according to SEEC Executive Director Wayne Barnett he does not see a “business model” in that because the harvest rate would be very low.

As a consolation, the SEEC is looking to approve a second rule, which would officially authorize candidates to post on their own campaign web site the official form to order replacement DVs. This is expected to be a convenience for voters but not have the kind of large-scale corrosive effect that paid DV harvesting has had.

The SEEC is looking to vote on the new rules at their September meeting. You can view their discussion of the rules at this week’s meeting here.


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