How Democracy Vouchers Amplify Working Class Political Participation

By Linda Phan, Washington Bus Legislative Intern

As a low-income teenager involved in politics, I always struggle with supporting my favorite candidates financially when election season rolls around. In a capitalist society, there has always been a high correlation between money and winning. For me, if I want a candidate who advocates for affordable housing and financial literacy programs to support working class families like mine, how do I compromise my own meager earnings for the prospect of a brighter future with improved legislation?

My dilemma echoes that of other low-income Washingtonians. However, most of us can’t even worry about politics. The looming threat of unpaid bills and empty stomachs rivals the need for progressive candidates tenfold. When politicians are responsible for offering solutions to these problems, it makes sense for those directly impacted by said problems to be the most supportive of the candidates who promise to meet their needs. Yet, the financial and societal consequences of capitalism acts as obstacles in allowing marginalized people to participate in the political arena. 

Democracy vouchers are a resource that can mitigate the accessibility issues surrounding electoral politics. Democracy vouchers are available to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or lawful permanent residents (“green card holder”) who live in Seattle and are over the age of 18. It only requires a quick sign up to receive them with the exception of registered voters, who receive them automatically. After signing up, democracy vouchers will be mailed out on a monthly basis. Each resident who signs up will be mailed four vouchers equivalent to $25. Each voucher can go to any candidate who qualifies for the program, and apply to all City elections. In the 2021 election, this applies to candidates in the running for Mayor, City Council, and City Attorney who stay under the respective spending limits of each race. Residents can even choose to give all of their vouchers to one candidate.

With democracy vouchers, voters who have trouble accessing political participation — Black and Indigenous People of Color, youth, immigrants and refugees, the working class, and more — are able to contribute to their favorite candidates’ campaigns regardless of wealth. While other access issues remain, such as the time needed to adequately research candidates, democracy vouchers are one step towards including marginalized communities in political decisions. In the future, I hope other governments follow Seattle’s example in supporting efforts to ensure that the ability to support campaigns is equitable and representative of all voters.

Hope For The New American Electorate

Hope For The New American Electorate

It’s always bizarre to see the political phenomenon you learn about in class manifest outside in the field. This weekend I got an up close and heartbreaking look into why politics work how they work.

This weekend the YVEC campaign took to Broadway street in the lovely city of Tacoma in a valiant effort to get all of its eligible residents registered to vote. Walking around Tacoma pride, I myself was encouraged to see droves of queer brown youth, out and proud. What would happen if all these beautiful people were registered and excited to vote, I thought? What kind of world would we live in then!

The afternoon went on and although the sun seemed to follow us more closely, voter registrations were piling up at our booth. Yet my excitement and energy to register members of the new American electorate: young people, queer identified people, people of color, low income residents and young single women, began to dwindle. Time after time again I ran into Black folk, queer identified folk, youth folk and any combination of them, who did not believe their vote would count.

One particular incident with a black man gave me a glimpse of how severely these communities were impacted by years of under representation in politics. I asked him if he was registered to vote, and he told me he was not. Disheartened, I moved on but he called me back and continued on to explain why he did not think Black people even had a place to vote when they had years and years of oppression they had yet to overcome. I tried to tell him what we were doing at the Bus and how we thought we could change that, but he was not the first or second or even the third individual of color I tried to engage who expressed that sentiment. I decided to put down my clipboard, sit down and hear what he had to say.

At the end, he did not register, but I got his name, thanked him for his time, and we agreed to disagree. During the entire 15 minute conversation I watched as one of my fellow fellows registered 2-3 enthusiastic older white voters and wondered if I had wasted my time. Later, during a debrief conversation with Karter (our field leader and Fellows Staff member), he told me that although many individuals do feel disillusioned with voting, sometimes it’s not about convincing them to register. Sometimes it’s about taking the time to listen and understand why they feel the way they do.
Although this interaction got me to think significantly about what work is actually possible in changing the dynamics in politics, I did leave Tacoma with hope. Earlier on that day, I managed to register a voter, a young black man who Karter had spent a while trying to register. I knew he only registered with me because he was trying to flirt with me but still. The fact that he was more comfortable registering with a young black girl rather than (no shade) Karter, says we got something right about who should be out here doing this work. If we see people like us encouraging us to do something, it might not erase years of disillusionment – but, sometimes, that might be just the trick. And we have to keep trying until all the young queer black folk are registering all the other young queer black folk. Until then, no ask has gone to waste.

This blog post was written by Gladys Gitau, 2014 Bus Fellow and Campaign Manager for the Youth Voter Engagement Campaign (YVEC), a campaign aimed to engage the new American electorate by registering young voters as well as underrepresented voters.

Thought Citizens United Was Bad? Meet McCutcheon.

Thought Citizens United Was Bad? Meet McCutcheon.

January 21, 2010 was a pretty awful day for democracy. On that hallowed day, our Supreme Court handed down their decision on Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Committee, a ruling that opened the floodgates for corporate money in political campaigns. The Supremes (no, not these Supremes, although they go about as far back) said that political contributions were a form of free speech, and that the FEC couldn’t restrict the amount of money a corporation (which is defined for legal purposes as a person) spent independently on a campaign, since that would be restricting their free speech. This decision was denounced by many Americans who reasoned that money is not speech and corporations are not people. Pretty simple, right?

But then came April 2, 2014. The SCOTUS handed down the decision for McCutcheon vs. Federal Elections Committee, which takes everything bad about Citizens United and makes it 500,000 times worse (approximately). While Citizens United struck down corporate contribution limits, McCutcheon removed the aggregate cap that individuals can spend directly on an election. This means that while the $2,600 maximum that an individual can donate to a single candidate remains in effect, the overall cap of $123,200 is removed.

The court was divided in classic 5-4 style, identical to their vote on Citizens United 4 years ago. The conservatives (Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and swing vote Kennedy) argued that the cap on direct individual donations doesn’t prevent corruption and is essentially meaningless, while the liberals (Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) dissented. In a rare and powerful display of significance, Justice Breyer read his dissenting opinion from the bench on the day of the decision. His blistering opinion stated that this decision “eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

In the expensive and polarized political landscape of today, the McCutcheon decision is incredibly relevant and holds major repercussions for future elections. Taken together, Citizens United and McCutcheon create major loopholes where donors can funnel millions of dollars to parties or campaigns.

The extent of the influence that the money has on elections is questionable. Karl Rove’s Crossroads PAC and nonprofit spent a combined $400,000,000 on the 2012 election, more than even the RNC. The flush-with-cash PAC and nonprofit saw 1% and 14% success rates, respectively.

Overall, however, it’s undeniable that McCutcheon will add a new dimension to our nation’s already questionable and porous campaign finance laws. Look to the 2014 midterms and 2016 general elections to see how the latest influx of money will affect your elections. In light of Citizens UnitedMcCutcheon, and a host of other campaign finance laws, it’s important to know that the United States government is of the people, by the people, and for the people; not of the millionaires, by the 1%, and for the corporations. Our Supreme Court would do well to remember that.

This blog post was written by former Bus Intern Isabella Fuentes, Junior extraordinaire at Ingraham High School in Seattle.

We’re All Students at the Electoral College

We’re All Students at the Electoral College

This week, seniors across the nation are receiving their university decision letters and choosing their future colleges. I think this means that it’s time to talk about another very important college: the electoral college.

The electoral college was created way back in 1787 by our founding fathers, intended to be the best method for choosing our presidents. They shot down the idea of Congress electing the president (not enough separation between branches of government) and direct popular vote (because then the South would have to figure out what to do about slaves), and ultimately settled on a system where a handful of electors choose the president for the country a few months after the popular election takes place.

Nowadays, however, some flaws in the system are pretty apparent.

  1. Only a few states actually matter. Because most states electoral college votes are winner-take-all (50% + 1 vote gets you 100% of electoral college), only the  swing states really matter on election day. Historically blue (sound familiar, Washington?) or red states don’t get much time, money, or attention from the candidates – while swing states like Ohio and Florida are inundated with endless campaign propaganda.
  2. Faithless electors. This is admittedly rare, but not unheard of. Electors “pledge” to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state, but aren’t legally bound to honor that pledge. This means that some sneaky electors have voted for another candidate than the one who won their state, going directly against voters’ mandate.
  3. 1876, 1888, 2000. Because of the way electoral math works out, a candidate who did not win a plurality of popular votes has been elected President three times in our history. Yikes! Popular interest and electoral vote aren’t always one and the same.

On that note, I have two pieces of news. First: the electoral college isn’t going away anytime soon. Second: this doesn’t mean we can’t have a popular vote.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement between states that is currently being debated across the nation, would utilize the electoral college system to create what is effectively a popular vote. Since the Constitution permits states to decide the method of appointing and pledging their electors, states who join this compact pledge their electors to whoever wins the national popular vote. If enough states do this – however many it takes to get to 270 votes, or a majority of the 538 needed to win – then whoever won the November popular election would be guaranteed an electoral victory as well, meaning we would effectively have a direct popular vote.

Progress of national popular vote bills by state. Credit:

In recent news, New York just became the 11th state to join the interstate compact since 2007. This means that 165 electoral votes, or 61% of the votes needed to achieve a direct popular vote, have been pledged to support the popular vote winner. That’s no surprise, since over 70% of Americans support a popular vote.

There’s not much Washingtonians can do now – our state has already joined the compact and passed the bill! However, keep a look out for this issue nationwide. If this passes, candidates will have to win everyone’s vote, and Washington voters will finally get the love we deserve!

This Blog post was written by 2014 Bus Intern and Hella Bus Content Lead Isabella Fuentes!

No ID? No Vote, No Voice

No ID? No Vote, No Voice

Twenty percent of 18 to 24-year-olds do not have a government-issued photo ID. In the ten states shown below, those young people without IDs will be unable to vote in November.

Obtaining a photo ID is more difficult than you would expect. Offices that issue photo IDs have limited business hours and are often found in rural areas where there is limited public transportation. On top of that, it can cost between $8-$25 to obtain a birth certificate (which is needed to get a photo ID). The Brennan Center for Justice outlines the difficulties of obtaining a photo ID in this comprehensive report.

What’s the reason behind these laws? Proponents argue that voter ID laws help ensure the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud. The reality is that voter fraud does not exist. While there are allegations of non-citizens voting in elections or people voting twice using fake names, that is simply not the case. A report by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2007 found that, “it is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Lightning Strikes Vote Fakers Dead

Your ability to vote in elections should not be determined by how much money you have in your pocket or whether you can visit an office to get an ID. Instead, we should encourage voting and make it easier for everyone to participate in elections. The problem is not apathy, it’s access. Laws like the voter ID laws we have seen place an unfair burden on young people.

Who Doesn't Have Government ID

A recent report by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts found that 44 percent of young adults didn’t know if they had to show a government photo ID or a driver’s license to vote. Thankfully, here in Washington State photo ID is not required to vote. But if you’re attending college out of state and are considering voting there, I encourage you to check out this voters’ guide from the Brennan Center for Justice.

This blog post was written by 2012 Fellow Tyler Sadonis.

City Offers Marriage License To Corporation

City Offers Marriage License To Corporation

A group of Seattle area activists just received a marriage license approving the marriage of Angela Vogel and a corporation called “Corporate Person”.

Jeff Reifman, the registered agent of Corporate Person spoke to me via phone moments after receiving the wedding certificate.

“I was really thrilled and the ceremony was wonderful,” reported Reifman.  “It was a little difficult to get them to do it, but they took my money and they provided a marriage license.  We talked to them about the Supreme Court offering corporate personhood.”

Corporate MarriageTil death do her part.

“The Supreme Court has said that corporations are persons with equal protections under the 14th amendment, which means they have all the same rights as you or me (unless you happen to be gay or lesbian).  So a corporation has just as much right to marry a woman that I have to marry a woman.”

Reifman, who is collecting signatures to put a Seattle-area initiative 103 up for a public vote, created a corporation called Corporate Person in order to illustrate the inanity of treating corporations like people.  Initiative 103 would eliminate corporate personhood in the City of Seattle only.

“If they were to reject the license, they would be facing a lawsuit from Corporate Person, and the city shouldn’t waste money defending yet another lawsuit,” said Reifman.

The City of Seattle is currently being sued by phone book companies claiming opt-out legislation restricts their access to free speech.

The marriage has especially relevant historical significance. In 1971 John Singer and Paul Barwick, two gay activists, marched up to city hall and asked for a marriage license.  Lloyd Hara, then acting as the county auditor, refused. This kicked off Singer vs. Hara, one of the first gay marriage lawsuits in the nation.  The Washington State Court of Appeals denied the men’s right to marry in 1974.

Angela Vogel, the bride in today’s wedding, would still be denied a marriage license with another woman today.  Corporate Person is apparently male.

“Everyone else in the world should do the same thing,” said Vogel.  “To draw attention to all the rights that will be afforded under the law.”

“I really want to explore all of the rights that this corporate person should be afforded in addition to marriage. Voting rights, the right to serve in the military.”

As to what’s next?

“We have a license to marry, we’re not married yet,” elaborated Reifman.  “We have a license to proceed.  It’s basically a done deal.  Under the law we have the right to do this.”

“That’s the stupid thing about corporate personhood.”

This blog post was written by Devin Glaser, longtime friend and volunteer of the Bus.