Austin’s Charter Review Commission has been tasked with weighing what the city of Austin should do to change its governing structure. One of the most controversial proposals among the eight recommended changes is the “Democracy Dollars” idea.
With the “Democracy Dollars” program in place, also known by the nickname “Voter Vouchers,” public dollars would be allotted to citizens of Austin which they could in turn use to fund municipal candidates’ campaigns. One of the proposals suggested giving citizens vouchers of $100, half of which could be used for the city council candidate of that person’s choice, and the other half could be used for their preferred mayoral candidate. The amounts to be allotted to citizens of Austin vary from proposal to proposal.
Those who are championing the program believe that giving residents money to reinvest in local elections will lead to higher participation in the political process, through donations, volunteering and ultimately turnout.
A similar program was enacted in 2015 in Seattle, the only other city in the country with a “Voter Voucher” program. Predictably, the city of Seattle did see an uptick in the number of lower income citizens donating and voting in elections. However, the city of Seattle also faced a lawsuit and various charges of corruption as a result of the program.
If enacted, the “Voter Vouchers” program is projected to cost $1.5 million, and $400,000 just to start up.
If the idea is put before the Austin City Council, and eventually put to a vote in the November election, it would likely garner support from members of the council and many of the citizens of Austin. However, it would only further government spending in Austin and line the pockets of already wealthy, liberal campaigns. Furthermore, spending on such a superfluous program could only further Austin’s affordability problem.
If the far-left candidates who most often win in Austin believe that money in politics is an issue that needs to be addressed, then they could decide not to take donations over a certain amount, or any money at all. Instead, the city of Austin has offered up another big government solution to a nonexistent issue, voluntary decisions by residents to not turn out in local elections.