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Does Ballard know enough about its council candidates? That's up for debate

caption: Critics say Seattle City Council District 6 didn't have enough debates before the August primary this year.
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Critics say Seattle City Council District 6 didn't have enough debates before the August primary this year.
City of Seattle

Voters want to hear directly from candidates. But not many will get that chance this summer in Seattle City Council District 6.

“It's been kind of disappointing to say the least that there haven't been any debates,” said one candidate for the seat, Dale Kutzera.

In fact, there was one debate, Kutzera acknowledged. But he said the event took place on May 10, before he got into the race. The candidate filing deadline this year was May 19.

And since May 10 there have been no debates or forums, and none are planned before next Tuesday’s Aug. 1 primary.

That could mean several candidates are technically breaking the rules governing Seattle's public campaign financing system, known as “Democracy Vouchers.” Candidates who agree to the rules are supposed to show up to at least three debates before the August primary, and three before the November general election.

Alan Durning with Seattle’s Sightline Institute, who helped design and advocate for the Democracy Voucher program, said the debate requirement is consistent with the main goal of the entire public campaign financing law.

“The real impetus was to give every encouragement to candidates to spend their time talking to voters,” Durning said.

The idea is to spur candidates to speak directly with regular voters as opposed to powerful donors, and the debate requirement was added as an extension of that principle.

But the debate rule includes a loophole. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission can grant an exception if there’s a good reason the candidate didn’t debate. It could be, for example, that there weren’t enough debates to attend, which was the case in District 6 heading into this year’s August primary.

But that still leaves some Seattle voters wanting more information.

There’s no official body in Seattle that organizes debates. According to Durning, those who designed the program didn’t want to place that added burden on Seattle Ethics and Elections.

That means it’s left up to community organizations and media outlets to ensure that the public gets a chance to hear from the candidates directly. But this year groups didn’t step up to the plate in the District 6 race.

Candidates who qualified for the Democracy Voucher program in District 6 include incumbent Councilmember Dan Strauss, Fremont Chamber of Commerce head Pete Hanning, attorney Shea Wilson, personal organizer and civil rights activist Victoria Palmer, and communications professional Dale Kutzera.

Why you can trust KUOW