EDITORIAL | Council race shows Democracy Vouchers doing their job

Back in November 2015, Seattle voters said yes to the idea of public campaign financing for city races.

We won’t see it in action at the mayoral level until 2021, but this year’s pair of city council races have essentially served as a testing ground for the “Democracy Vouchers” program.

In particular, the fundraising saga surrounding the race for Position 8 and candidates Sara Nelson, Teresa Mosqueda, and Jon Grant have shown the value of the measure.

As candidates to collect vouchers, both Grant and Mosqueda agreed to a $150,000 fundraising limit. Neither could exceed that figure, unless another candidate surpassed that total in private fundraising. When Nelson’s campaign and the independent expenditure campaign backing her went past that mark, it allowed Grant and Mosqueda to petition the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to lift their $150,000 cap (for regular donations), which it did.

To us, this is a sign that the program is working. With the strong backing of the business community — and understandably so, given she’s a notable member of it as the co-founder of Fremont Brewing — Nelson was going to have a financial leg up on her opponents. With the maximum $150,000 in vouchers for Grant, and just over $100,000 in voucher contributions for Mosqueda, it seems like the playing field was somewhat evened by tax-paying supporters, who may not even have been able to donate to a campaign without the program.

It’s a shame that it takes six-figures to be competitive in an open city council race, but Democracy Vouchers at least allow for a well-organized, grassroots effort that lacks big financial backing to compete against those who do have it. It’s worth mentioning that Grant raised approximately $75,000 in his voucher-less 2015 council run, while incumbent Tim Burgess took in nearly $400,000 in his victory.

We do have one qualm with the program’s current design, though, and it has to do with the process of actually submitting the vouchers.

While we understand that safeguards must be used to prevent fraud, we wish the city did more to promote the email return option. For many, dropping off vouchers at one of the city’s customer service centers or the SEEC office during regular business hours is a nonstarter (most of us are working then, too), while returning them via regular mail can be an extra hurdle when you have to hunt for a stamp.

Let’s make it clearer from the outset that a simple scan and email to democracyvoucher@seattle.gov will suffice.

And though actually requesting replacement vouchers if yours are misplaced or lost seems easy enough, promoting that that is an option people have would also be welcome. The more open and accessible the program is for residents the better.