Allie Boldt for Demos: In 2015, by a 26-point margin, Seattle voters passed an initiative that has the potential to transform Seattle elections. The initiative established a first-in-the-nation program that gives Seattle residents $100 in "democracy vouchers," which they can distribute to candidates who pledge to receive more of their funding from small-dollar sources and less from big money.
This is the first year of elections under the program, and it has already expanded political opportunity in Seattle. More than 11,000 Seattle residents have already made voucher contributions to City Council candidates — compared to just 6,900 private donors who contributed to the mayoral election (which is not yet covered by the program) in the same period. For some Seattle residents, the democracy vouchers are game-changing: the difference between participating as a donor and not.
Despite the program's apparent popularity, it now faces a misguided legal challenge by two property taxpayers represented by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, who say the program violates their First Amendment rights. They argue the program discriminates against taxpayers on the basis of their viewpoints because under the program, the candidate or candidates that a property taxpayer supports might not receive as much public funding as candidates with more popular support.
This understanding of the First Amendment could not be more wrong. ...
As the brief explains, the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect free speech for us to be free to govern ourselves in our democracy. Democracy demands that a person's ideas are no more or less important simply because she is rich or poor.