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About those ‘democracy vouchers.’ They didn’t work for everyone

This year, Seattle embarked on a bold political experiment in public funding for elections: the Democracy Voucher program.

But Hisam Goueli, a candidate for Seattle City Council Position 8, says the new voucher system is broken and lead to "frustration and tears" for his campaign. Although he received nearly $20,000, the money arrived the day before the primary election.

Goueli saw the program as a great opportunity for a first-time candidate like himself to run a competitive campaign. In the taxpayer-funder program, each registered voted in Seattle was issued four $25 vouchers, which they can "donate" to the candidate of their choice.

But Goueli says that dream turned into a total nightmare, when he and his campaign manager ended up spending "four or five hours each day trying to get the democracy voucher program working."

To qualify, a candidate needed 400 backers. After asking for a voter's support, Goueli says he also needed to ask for $10 and their signatures to qualify. Finally, he had to ask for the democracy vouchers themselves.

"It was just too much to explain that in 15 seconds when you're at a stranger's door, and you're literally asking them to do a multi-step process," Goueli said.

Goueli says linking the different steps was the problem: He could have easily gotten 400 signatures and 400 donations.

In contrast, Goueli argues the candidates in his race who took advantage of the program were the two who already had large political organizations backing them: Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda.

Backers say the voucher program was designed to increase civic participation, and that more people donated to campaigns this year than they had in the past.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) is responsible with overseeing the voucher program, and may make changes before it's scheduled to expand to more races in next year's Seattle city elections.

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