Voters approved the program in 2015. This fall will be its first year in practice. This week, the city is mailing four $25 vouchers to each Seattle voter (and also to some non-voter residents). Those voters can give the vouchers to any candidate they like. Candidates are more restricted: to cash the vouchers, they must sign up for the democracy vouchers program, agree to spending limits, and collect at least 400 donations of between $10 and $250 from Seattle residents to prove that they’re serious about running.
Grant says he’s already gathered 560 donations in less than a month, with an average donation of $16. During his unsuccessful 2015 race, by comparison, Grant received only 413 donations in total. In that race Grant’s opponent, incumbent Tim Burgess, out-fundraised him by a ratio of more than five to one. At the end of this year Burgess will retire, leaving an open seat.
“People don’t realize there’s only one competitive seat next year,” he says, but “position 8 is really where it’s going to be competitive” since the other open positions are already held by incumbents (councilmember M. Lorena González, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and Mayor Ed Murray). “That [money] that went to Tim is going to be looking for a new conduit” in new pro-business candidates, Grant says. Hence the import of democracy vouchers for keeping grassroots candidates afloat in a sea of political donations.
Currently, Grant and city attorney Pete Holmes are the only two candidates who have registered for the democracy vouchers program. Grant’s only registered competition for Burgess’ seat is Rudy Pantoja, better known as “Hugh Mungus.”