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Seattle democracy vouchers are constitutional, Washington Supreme Court rules

Justices ruled Seattle’s democracy vouchers program doesn't violate the First Amendment. Under the program, voters can give $100 in vouchers to city candidates.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Seattle’s democracy vouchers program is constitutional, upholding a lower court’s decision.

Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon had filed the suit claiming the program was unconstitutional, because it uses taxpayer money to fund political speech.

Seattle voters approved the democracy voucher program in 2015, which aims to prevent corruption and give a voice to voters who may not feel heard. Each voter receives four $25 vouchers for an election cycle and can donate them to participating municipal candidates. The program is funded through a 10-year property tax, which began collection in 2016.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Seattle’s democracy vouchers do not burden free speech, because they facilitate public discussion and encourage voter participation.

Justices also found the program doesn’t force taxpayers to associate with any particular message that the program may be conveying, and therefore doesn’t violate First Amendment rights.

“The program resembles other content neutral ways the government facilitates political speech, for example, when the government distributes voters' pamphlets,” the ruling read.

Seattle’s democracy vouchers program is one of at least eight public campaign finance programs enacted by city and county governments across the country since 2015.

During the 2017 elections, which was the first time vouchers were distributed, candidates received $1.1 million from the program.

RELATED: Seattle candidates receive $1.5 million worth of Democracy Vouchers since May