Democracy Dollars in Oakland, California
Art by George O'Connor
In just 75 days, voters in Oakland, California have the opportunity to vote for the Oakland Fair Elections Act, which would create a “democracy dollars” system of public funding of elections. With democracy dollars, each Oakland resident will receive democracy vouchers worth $100. Residents can give these vouchers to city council and mayor candidates, and the candidates then exchange the vouchers for public funds to run their campaigns.
In Seattle, which has had democracy vouchers since 2017, candidates can run for office and win without depending on special interest money. All residents can contribute to candidates, regardless of their personal level of wealth, which encourages candidates to campaign in all areas of the city –not just the high-income areas. The Seattle program increased the number of small donations as well as the number of candidates, providing voters greater choice. There’s more about Oakland’s Measure W at FairElectionsOakland.org and democracy vouchers–in comic form–in this excerpt from my book Unrig.
The Oakland ballot measure has been four years in the making, with MapLight co-leading the effort alongside groups like Common Cause California, the ACLU of Northern California, the League of Women Voters of Oakland, Oakland Rising, Bay Rising, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. MapLight’s March report on money in Oakland elections found that just half of all fundraising by candidates came from Oakland residents, and that campaign contributions came disproportionately from Oakland's richest and whitest neighborhoods.