Oakland, California, residents passed a measure to give all adult residents $100 in taxpayer-funded vouchers, called “Democracy Dollars,” to donate to local political candidates every other year, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported.
The ballot measure, called the Fair Elections Act, was approved by nearly 74% of residents, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Every two years, residents 18 years and older will receive four $25 vouchers that can be donated to local political candidates running for mayor, City Council, or school board positions. All legal permanent adult residents, including non-U.S. citizens, will receive those vouchers, which will be paid for by the city’s general funds.
The most recent draft of the act explains that the initiative aims to “curb corruption,” encourage more public participation in local elections, and help finance candidates not funded by donors with significant wealth. Additionally, the program will prevent former city officials from becoming lobbyists.
Candidates hoping to receive residents’ vouchers must first qualify for the program by raising a certain amount in contributions. For instance, a mayoral candidate must receive 400 contributions of at least $10 each. Certified candidates will also have to agree to spending caps.
Daniel Newman, cofounder and president of Maplight, the nonpartisan organization that supported Oakland’s measure, told Fast Company, “We’re seeking to help candidates run for office and win, who would be great elected officials but don’t have access to wealth.”
The act was based on a similar measure enacted in Seattle in 2017, the first of its kind. According to University of Washington research, the program resulted in more candidates running for local office, creating a more challenging race for incumbents.
Liz Suk, executive director of Oakland Rising, an organization that backed the ballot measure, claimed that Seattle’s program was successful at increasing overall resident participation in elections and “voter turnout from communities of color,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The University of Washington reported that Seattle’s programs increased donations in local elections by 53% per race. The number of contributors per race also increased by 350%. However, the study also found that only 2% and 5% of vouchers were used.
Alameda County Taxpayers Association President Marcus Crawley argued that Oakland’s measure, which was based on Seattle’s existing program, would be “biased toward incumbents” and ultimately waste taxpayer dollars.
According to the draft measure, the program will cost at least $700,000 in start-up costs and another $1,850,000 to administer the “Democracy Dollars.”
The City of Oakland did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported.