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"A Deep and Diverse Pool." Democracy Vouchers Expand Who Donates in Local Elections

Democracy vouchers involved donors from more geographically diverse parts of the city than cash-only donations, according to supporters of the program.

*This post originally appeared on The Stranger.

Seattle's first-in-the-nation democracy voucher program has resulted in more people donating to local elections, including people who didn't give to candidates in the past two election cycles. That's according to a new report from Win/Win and Every Voice, two advocacy groups that supported the creation of the program.

Democracy vouchers include four publicly funded $25 coupons mailed to every resident of Seattle for the first time this year. The vouchers, funded by property taxes, could be donated to candidates for city council and city attorney during this election. In the future, mayoral candidates will be eligible too. Seattle voters approved the voucher system and property tax levy to fund it in 2015.

The system has its flaws. Some candidates say the process to qualify for the voucher program is too cumbersome and one has been accused of defrauding the system. Vouchers cannot stop significant outside spending in local races. And they did not dramatically change who won this year's elections. In both city council races and the race for city attorney, the candidate with the most money raised (and broadest backing) won their races.

But the new public campaign financing system has involved more people in local politics by allowing more people to donate to candidates, according to the report from Win/Win and Every Voice. According to the report, 25,000 residents gave money during this year's local election cycle compared to just 8,200 people in 2013. About 84 percent of donors this year were new donors who had not given to local candidates in 2013 or 2015. Of those new donors, 71 percent gave democracy vouchers, according to the report. And candidates for city council and city attorney relied more on small donations than in the past, according to the report.

The groups' analysis of donations and voter data found that more lower income people, young people, women, and people of color gave in this election cycle than in the past.

"For the first time, every Seattle resident—not just those with deep pockets—became an important potential campaign funder with their four $25 vouchers," the report reads.

"As a result, this initial analysis finds that candidates in races with Democracy Vouchers relied on a deep and diverse pool of Seattleites for their campaign money, instead of the disproportionately white, wealthy donor pool that funds conventional elections."

The groups released the final version of the report Wednesday. It includes donor data available on November 6, the day before the general election. The Seattle Times first reported on an earlier version of the report last month, before the November 7 election. Read the full report here.

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