Last Tuesday, Seattle voters approved of an unprecedented measure that will dramatically overhaul how local candidates running for mayor, city council, and city attorney raise campaign funds.
Under Initiative 122, Seattle became the first city in the United States to try taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.” These vouchers work in a relatively straightforward manner. Each registered Seattle voter will receive four $25 vouchers to give to a candidate, or candidates, of their choice. The plan is funded by the city’s real estate taxes as voters authorized a 10-year, $30 million property-tax levy to pay for the vouchers.
A candidate can decline to accept vouchers, but if they accept them, they agree to follow certain guidelines. First, the candidate accepting vouchers must take part in at least three public debates. Additionally, the candidate will have to accept lower campaign contributions and to limit campaign spending.
Seattle’s plan could be a new way to approach campaign finance in Arizona following frustrations with the state’s “clean elections” system and its matching funds being struck down by the United States Supreme Court.
During every election cycle, we hear stories of large corporations and wealthy individuals increasingly using their financial resources to dominate Arizona’s political process. Many Arizonans have become complacent with elections, arguing that they feel out of touch with their political candidates. Indeed, Arizona’s 2014 election turnout was anemic.
If a democracy voucher-like plan is adopted in Arizona, democracy could return to the hands of people, and not just the powerful. There is no doubt that democracy vouchers will give every registered Arizona voter more influence over the political process and will give more political voice to Arizonans of modest financial means. The influence of big money may be curbed and the political voices of Arizonans of modest financial means could be amplified.
Candidates also serve to benefit from the adoption of a democracy voucher-like plan in Arizona. Those seeking public office will have access to a greater number of potential donors. This is because registered voters, who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have money to spend in order to influence local politics, now will have vouchers to voice their opinions to candidates.
Arizona has typically stood at the forefront of democracy and electoral reform. In this case, the state might look northwest for a better election compass.