Do Seattle’s democracy vouchers work? New analysis says yes

The controversial program, which uses taxpayer money to fund city elections, was implemented for the first time this year in Seattle. A new analysis shows that compared with typical voters a more diverse group of people used the vouchers in this year’s primary.

Nobody can accuse Seattle of shying away from controversy. From a $15 minimum wage to allowing Uber drivers to unionize, we’re not afraid to be the nation’s guinea pig when it comes to progressive legislation.

Seattle also earned first-in-the-nation bragging rights for “democracy vouchers” — a new program to finance political campaigns using taxpayer money.

The program went into effect this year, and it’s had a bit of a bumpy start. One City Council candidate has been accused of defrauding the program. A libertarian-leaning group has sued, saying the program violates the First Amendment. And a Seattle Times analysis showed that the vouchers haven’t gotten big money out of politics, as some proponents claimed they would.

But a new, early look at donor-participation statistics shows that the democracy voucher program does appear to live up to its name — that is, it is helping to democratize political giving in Seattle by diversifying the donor pool to better reflect Seattle residents.

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The data analysis was performed by two liberal political-advocacy nonprofits: Seattle-based Win/Win and Washington, D.C.-based Every Voice.

Voucher donations, just like all donations, are public record, so researchers know precisely who used the program. They worked up a demographic profile of the nearly 11,000 Seattleites who used vouchers through the Aug. 1 primaries. The vouchers could be used in three races — the City Council’s two citywide seats and for city attorney.

The vouchers are not yet accepted for the mayor’s race, and the researchers took advantage of the fact. They used that donation pool…

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