Does the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission read Slog?
Does the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission read Slog? Nathalie Graham

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission plans to introduce some additional transparency requirements for campaigns participating in the Democracy Voucher program, according to draft legislation released ahead of the commission's regularly scheduled meeting next week. If approved, the changes could go into effect shortly thereafter.

If the changes go through, campaigns will no longer be able to post voucher replacement forms online after Gov. Jay Inslee rolls back social distancing guidelines. The state plans to fully reopen on June 30, but Inslee said that date could move up if vaccine levels improve sooner than expected.

Campaigns will also need to identify voucher collectors by giving them name tags that spell out the collector's name, the campaign they're working for, and whether they're paid or a volunteer. The collector will need to sign each voucher they collect and specify the date, time, and location where they collected the voucher. The collector also must verbally disclose that they are collecting Democracy Voucher signatures.

The proposed changes come after The Stranger reported on the various voucher collection strategies that Seattle mayoral campaigns have been using to scoop up funds, some more dubious than others.

Seattle introduced its unique Democracy Voucher program to engage more people within the political process, and it seems to be working. Earlier this year, Seattle voters received four $25 vouchers to give to any candidate during the 2021 election season. So far, Seattle voters have funneled over $1,288,000 in voucher money to Seattle campaigns, according to SEEC data.

Grassroots candidates like Andrew Grant Houston depend on that money to communicate with voters without needing the financial resources to self-fund or to adjust stances to appeal wealthy donors. Houston already reached the $400,000 fundraising cap for mayoral candidates in the primary. Of that money, around $350,000 is from vouchers. However, as The Stranger's Rich Smith reported, some of Houston's democracy voucher collectors used deceptive pitches, and some stood beside bare tables without any campaign branding except for a line of clipboards full of replacement vouchers pre-printed with the candidate's name. Those actions contributed to this potential change to the voucher program.

"We’re proposing this change because of concerns that first emerged in 2019 and have continued to be voiced this year," Wayne Barnett, director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission wrote in an email.

If the commission approves the new rule, then any campaign caught violating it could lose democracy voucher money.

"If, for example, we learned that someone collecting forms on a certain date wasn’t identifying themselves, then we could void all forms collected by that person on that date," Barnett said, "or just all forms collected by that person if we learned it was not an isolated event."

Barnett said that the SEEC would only investigate violations that take place after the rule goes into effect. In order for the SEEC to investigate a violation, someone would need to file a complaint with proof, in other words "credible evidence" such as video or audio of the violation, Barnett said.

A spokesperson for the Houston campaign said the rules "won't affect anything, really," since the campaign stopped collecting vouchers at the end of last month. If Houston makes it through the primary, then his paid canvassers will need to wear badges and mark down where they collect vouchers. "Everything else we already do," the spokesperson added.

Former Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk also reached the maximum voucher distribution amount for the primary, so any changes shouldn't mess with her campaign at the moment either.

Council President Lorena Gonzalez's camp said they're currently paying a field organizer to recruit volunteers to collect vouchers but gave no comment about the rule changes. After the initial publication of this piece, a spokesperson for Jessyn Farrell's campaign said, "the change wouldn't affect anything we're doing. We have folks collecting Democracy Vouchers while canvassing for the campaign, but they're already wearing stickers with our logo and carrying campaign literature."

Former Council President Bruce Harrell uses volunteers to collect vouchers, and "will of course make any changes needed to comply with new rules," according to a spokesperson.

Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller and SEED director Lance Randall have yet to officially qualify for the program.

The SEEC meeting on the rule change is Wednesday, June 2 at 4:00 p.m. If the SEEC approves the rule, it will head to the Seattle City Clerk's office for certification soon after. However, the rule could need further discussion depending on how the meeting goes.