That’s quite a headline. This is uncharted territory.

In 2015, Seattle voters approved a Democracy Vouchers program that, as of January 2017, is underway. Residents of Seattle have by now received by mail $100 (4 at $25 each) in vouchers that can be applied toward qualified candidates in the 2017 election cycle. Seattle’s City Council elections occur in odd-numbered years, so here, the campaigning never stops.

An interesting element of this experimental step toward public financing of elections is the urgency of voters needing to seek the vouchers, inform themselves as candidates become eligible to receive them, and distribute them as they see fit. This brings a certain new level of obligation to the voting process: Seattle voters now need to use the vouchers in a timely manner so as to not disadvantage the candidate(s) they hope to ultimately see elected.

KCTS, a Public Television Station serving Washington and Canada, has provided a helpful explainer video on the Democracy Voucher program debuting in Seattle this year.

An obligation and an urgency

The introduction of the voucher program is a historic step in the election reform movement in that it begins to level the playing field between everyday Americans running for office and corrupt incumbents buoyed by special interests, big money, and the corporate-backed party establishment. We will see the nuances of this in the race for City Council Position #8: a candidate refusing to accept corporate cash now qualifies for the vouchers according to the City’s website.

Jon Grant, former Tenants Union director and long-time housing advocate who identifies as a Democratic Socialist, has qualified to receive the vouchers having surpassed the threshold of individual donations needed. Teresa Mosqueda, a labor union leader who enjoys the financial support of much of Washington’s Democratic party establishment, and NAACP Vice President Sheley Secrest, a attorney who has been disbarred, are also running for the seat.

As the one singular eligible candidate who has committed to rejecting corporate cash, Grant stands most to gain from the receipt of the voucher funds. In a city electorate so progressive that it broke the bank supporting Senator Bernie Sanders’ ultimately neutered primary run for the Democratic Presidential nomination, the vouchers may pour in.

All eyes are on Seattle, the progressive petri dish

As Shaun King observed in his recent visit to Seattle, following the widespread Democratic losses at every level of government incurred in the November 2016 election, other major cities now look Seattle is the progressive “pace car”. That is, Seattle is setting the bar in how rigorously cities can be mobilizing activists against regressive actions being taken by government and corporations to protect the status quo at the expense of the everyday Americans.

A city that has already re-elected a Socialist certainly will continue to trailblaze as the Democracy Voucher program runs the course of its inaugural year and a Congressional midterm cycle the following.

Even residents of Seattle who are not eligible to vote in the election can—and should— participate in the Democracy Voucher program, and take action in distributing their vouchers as quickly as possible. It’s interesting to have a “guilt complex” about having to actively engage in the democratic process cycle after cycle. But it’s good for you.

Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird 


Zach Haller is a writer, startup founder, immigration specialist, and fitness instructor. Somewhat ubiquitous on twitter, his satirical commentary and colorful ruling class criticism earned his twitter account over 50 million views in 2016. He is based in Seattle, Washington.