Should the government finance democracy vouchers?
With Seattle being the first to implement democracy vouchers and some states putting a pilot voucher program in place, many wonder if using vouchers would actually help build a fairer democracy
Rise of the Issue
In 2015, Seattle, Washington, became the first jurisdiction in the United States to adopt democracy vouchers, a plan which provides voters with $25 dollar vouchers that can be donated to the political campaign of their choosing. Since then, the nation has debated the efficacy of such a system on the local, state, and national level.
Proponents argue democracy dollars allow citizens to participate in elections in a way they would never otherwise be able to, i.e. by donating money. They believe it would allow small donors to make up for the disproportionate amount wealthy donors spend in state and local elections that do not affect them. Opponents, however, argue that it is unlikely that democracy vouchers could make up for the amount of money spent by large donors—especially after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.
Seattle Adopts Democracy Vouchers
Seattle becomes the first municipality to introduce it after a citywide referendum.
South Dakota Passes Democracy Vouchers
South Dakota becomes the first state to adopt democracy vouchers after a statewide ballot initiative, although the legislature would soon after repeal the measure.
Seattle First Implements Democracy Vouchers
The Seattle City Council race becomes the first in which residents can send vouchers to eligible candidates.
Andrew Yang Supports Democracy Vouchers
Presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, puts forward a plan that would provide registered voters with $100 to put towards whatever political campaign they choose.
Proponents argue democracy dollars would increase political participation by allowing citizens to donate to candidates of their choosing who would not otherwise. Opponents suggest that people who want to already donate to political campaigns and that giving vouchers to the politically-apathetic would not change anything.
The Efficacy of Replacing Money
Proponents say that democracy vouchers could be an efficient way to fight corruption in politics by removing real money, while opponents argue that it is still feeding the same system and its shortcomings, albeit in a different way.
Balancing Out Campaigns
Proponents allege that democracy vouchers would create political races more representative of the people and the candidates they support. Opponents argue democracy vouchers are not enough to make up for the thousands to millions of dollars rich donors pour into candidates of their choosing.
More people can participate in the political process.
Because democracy vouchers would be sent to eligible voters, most of whom would not otherwise vote, more people would be able to donate to campaigns they support.
Wealthy donors can be counteracted.
While wealthy donors will continue to donate, their donations can be balanced out if enough citizens support candidates the wealthy oppose.
Disadvantaged communities can be given a voice.
Marginalized and disenfranchised communities who typically do not have much capital would be able to donate and support candidates of their choosing.
It encourages interactions between candidates and voters.
Because candidates would not be as beholden to mega-donors, the need to get voters’ democracy vouchers would force politicians to get more involved in their community and interact more with everyday citizens
Grassroots candidates could have stronger support.
Candidates who do not have the support of major political parties could become viable candidates if their platform resonates with voters who donate with democracy vouchers.
Taxes would need to be raised.
The government would need some way to fund a democracy voucher program, which would, in turn, require taxes of some form to be levied against the people who would receive the vouchers.
Donor inequality would still exist.
Wealthy donors will still be able to donate to candidates of their choosing until Citizens United is overturned or a constitutional amendment is passed, so while their influence can be diluted, they will still have a disproportionate voice in political donations.
It forces abstainers to unwillingly participate in the political system.
There have always been, and always will be, people who do not wish to vote or support candidates; however, because their taxes would also be raised, those conscientious objectors would be funding candidates they disagree with—especially if they do not use their democracy vouchers.
There are other, more efficient ways to help the disadvantaged.
Instead of funding democracy vouchers, the taxes levied could be used to help the disadvantaged and lift them up so they can support candidates without a government voucher.
Limiting campaign spending would be more effective.
Because of the outsized share of donations by the wealthy, limiting campaign contributions would be more effective at equalizing elections.