Washington State

Seattle's Democracy Voucher Program Sees Its First Fraud Investigation

The alleged fraud highlights the ways in which the controversial program has failed to help outsider candidates.

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A man voting
Flynt/Dreamstime

Seattle police are investigating the first reported attempt to defraud the city's Democracy Voucher program.

Under this program, voters are given four vouchers of $25 each to donate to a candidate of their choice. You can allot your money to any candidate you want, but to spend that money candidates must meet certain eligibility requirements. Specifically, each candidate must collect both a signature and a donation from 400 registered Seattle voters.

Sheley Secrest, a failed City Council candidate, is being investigated for allegedly recording donations from herself as having coming from 56 individual voters, all in a fraudulent gambit to make herself eligible for the vouchers. The Seattle Times contacted several of the voters that Secrest said were donors to her campaign; all of them roundly denied giving her money.

The alleged fraud is the latest bit of bad press for the program, which has so far failed in its stated intention of encouraging upstart and outsider candidates, and which is currently being sued for its alleged unconstitutionality.

Secrest, who finished fifth in Seattle's August 1 primary race, certainly had an incentive to skirt the rules. She had been awarded $14,350 in voucher funds she wasn't qualified to spend. One of her competitors, Hisam Goueli, was pledged $14,650 that he wasn't qualified to spend until the Friday prior to the primary. In total, $78,000 in Democracy Vouchers were awarded to candidates who did not qualify to spend them.

While no other candidates have been accused of fraud, Secrest's apparent actions highlight the frustrating experience less established candidates have had with the Democracy Voucher program, which is getting its first test in an election this year.

The stated purpose of the measure was to create a "more diverse candidate pool" of ordinary people not beholden to political machines or special-interest money. The Voters Guide for the 2015 initiative that created the Democracy Vouchers said it would encourage "more women, people of color, and young people to run for office."

Secrest, a 42-year-old woman of color, would seem to fit this mold pretty well. So would Goueli, a 39-year-old gay Muslim who'd never run for office before. But as Goueli told The Seattle Times in July, "Instead of getting my message out, I'm trying to get Democracy Vouchers." The good doctor ended up with a paltry 3.1 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, better established and supported candidates are cleaning up that voucher money. Washington Tenants Union head John Grant, making his second run for City Council, racked up the maximum of $150,000 in voucher cash, helping to propel him to a first-place finish in the August 1 race. Likewise, second-place finisher Teresa Mosqueda, political director for the state's AFL-CIO branch, managed to collect $102,000 in Democracy Vouchers.

These two will now advance to the general election to be held in November. The candidates who failed to qualify for the funds are left to lick their electoral wounds, or in Secrect's case seek legal counsel.

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  1. Washington Tenants Union head John Grant, making his second run for City Council, racked up the maximum of $150,000 in voucher cash, helping to propel him to a first-place finish in the August 1 race. Likewise, second-place finisher Teresa Mosqueda, political director for the state’s AFL-CIO branch, managed to collect $102,000 in Democracy Vouchers.

    Classic. So is now a good time to rethink what the actual intent of the program was?

    1. I think it’s pretty clear what the actual intent was.

      1. Let’s not go and assume they’re smarter than they actually are. They really thought this would work.

        When you see a statement like this,

        more women, people of color, and young people to run for office.

        what are you gonna do, oppose this wonderful plan like some kind of literal Nazi? You must understand, that to the Neomarxist, optics and statements mean everything. Results can be easily forgotten, and history can be rewritten.

        1. We had no way of knowing that was total self-serving bullshit at the time.

        2. When is intent a valid argument in politics?

    2. Left-wing parasites setting up scams to steal money?

  2. The alleged fraud is the latest bit of bad press for the program, which has so far failed in its stated intention of encouraging upstart and outsider candidates, and which is currently being sued for its alleged unconstitutionality.

    The whole program is a first amendment violation, and I will donate to any organization that sues on these grounds.

  3. If they’d really intended to help the fringe candidates, they’d have made existing support a disqualification. Already got donations? No free money for you. Already got donations? No free money for you either.

    But of course they never did intend to help fringe candidates. Surprise!

    1. Already got donations? No free money for you. Already got donations? No free money for you either.

      So, rather than a minimum wage, more like a UBI for political candidates? Awesome. Makes you want to kick Milton Friedman in the nuts.

      1. Well why not go full socialist help-the-? Oh but wait, these downtrodden are competitors, better keep them trodden down.downtrodden.

        (I see I said “donations” twice. One of them should have been “signatures” or “backers” or something.)

  4. Washington Tenants Union head John Grant, making his second run for City Council, racked up the maximum of $150,000 in voucher cash, helping to propel him to a first-place finish in the August 1 race.

    Oh yeah, that’s the incoming rent control which has served San Francisco and NY so well.

  5. Democracy is the will of the people. That’s why it’s so easy to reform democracy with democracy. This is known.

  6. I clicked and went to the article and saw a black politician.

    So. If I understand prog-calculus it goes something like this: Race and gender is a social construct and math is racism ergo investigating her is racism because white privilege and slavery. More over she failed because white privilege and slavery. Call in Antifa and protest, smash some heads and presto! CIVIL DEMOCRACY FOR THE WIN!

    How did I do?

    1. It’s Seattle. There aren’t 400 black voters in the city.

      1. But I’m sure there are plenty of white-guilt liberal voters from what I hear and gather.

  7. RE: Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program Sees Its First Fraud Investigation

    “…voters are given four vouchers of $25 each to donate to a candidate of their choice.”

    Gee, I wonder where Seattle got the $25 from.

    1. Would have been much better if the voters had the option on keeping the money for themselves.

    2. Those are not appropriate questions for the local media to ask.

  8. “I categorically deny all of that,” Secrest said. “That never, ever took place ? To say we did something dishonest, that’s offensive.”

    She also said, “It’s a shame a white man would lead these attacks.”

    And the reporter was too chickenshit to follow up with a question as to what exactly she meant by that last remark.

  9. This concept is absolutely hysterical. It’s bad enough that elected politicians get our money. But now they want our money without going through the effort of getting elected? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

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