The nation’s first “political voucher” system — a coupon of sorts that lets voters direct public money into the campaigns of candidates — is a rousing success in Jon Grant’s view. Vying for a seat on the Seattle City Council, Grant has raised $186,000 through the vouchers, which are funded by a city property tax and intended to offset the financial advantage of big-money candidates. “The last time I ran,” says Grant, a community activist who unsuccessfully sought a council seat in 2015, “our campaign was outspent 8 to 1.” This time he’s the one outspending his opponents.
Seattle’s program works like this: Each voter receives four vouchers, each worth $25 in public funds. A voter can give all four vouchers to one candidate, or divvy them among contenders. Candidates redeem the vouchers for cash from a city account funded through a property tax.
While some U.S. cities have public campaign financing, Seattle’s program is considered one-of-a-kind, having been approved by voters and imposing no matching funds requirement.
“With the Democracy Voucher program, we’ve been able to lead campaigns in fundraising, with 90% of our donations coming from publicly financed vouchers,” said Grant, who asks for vouchers as he campaigns door to door.