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AGO 1958 No. 224 - October 29, 1958
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS ‑- PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICTS ‑- NOMINATION OF COMMISSIONERS BY PETITION.  ELECTIONS ‑- NOMINATION OF PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS BY PETITION.

Any elector may sign nominating petitions for more than one prospective commissioner of public utility district.

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                                                                October 29, 1958

Honorable Richard A. Perry
Prosecuting Attorney
Ferry County
Republic, Washington                                                                                               Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 224

Dear Sir:

            You have submitted to this office for our opinion a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May one elector sign nominating petitions for more than one prospective commissioner of the public utility district?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 54.12.060 is the statute which provides for nomination of candidates for public utility district commissioner by petition:

            "Nominations for commissioners shall be by petition signed by one hundred electors of the utility district, to be filed in the office of the county auditor not more than sixty days, and not less than thirty days prior to the day of election:  Provided, That in a district having a population of less than four thousand, the nominating petition shall be signed by ten percent or more of the electors of the district."

            It is quite clear that this statutory provision contains no restriction, either  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] express or implied, as to the number of petitions supporting different candidates for the same office which may be signed by a single elector, as long as the requirement that each petition contain the minimum number of signatures is satisfied.  Nor is there any question involved here of frustrating the electoral process since, by the terms of the above statute, the use of such petitions is a nominating device only and not an election.  Martin v. Schulte, 204 Ind. 431, 182 N.E. 703 (1932); Bridges v. McCorvey, 254 Ala. 677, 49 So. (2d) 546 (1950).

            It is a well settled legal principle that the legislature has the power to regulate the manner of selecting candidates.  Our own court in State ex rel. Shepard v. Superior Court, 60 Wash. 370, 111 Pac. 233 (1910), at page 372, has said:

            ". . . the manner in which the franchise shall be exercised is purely statutory.  It is not within the power of the legislature to destroy the franchise, but it may control and regulate the ballot, so long as the right is not destroyed or made so inconvenient that it is impossible to exercise it.  It follows, then, that that which does not destroy or unnecessarily impair the right must be held to be within the constitutional power of the legislature."

            No case has been decided in this jurisdiction dealing with the specific question you have presented.  All of the decisions involving the question which have been decided in other jurisdictions involve the judicial interpretation of express statutory prohibitions against an elector signing petitions for more than one candidate for the same office.  For example, in State ex rel. Miller v. Harmon, 35 Nev. 189 (1912), 127 Pac. 221, the court held that a statutory provision that no one person could join in nominating more than one nominee for each office to be filled did not nullify the initial signature on a petition, but the duplicate signatures were invalid on a subsequent petition.  In other jurisdictions the statutory provision involved not only contains a prohibition against the same person joining in a certificate or petition for nomination of more than one person for the same office but an additional proviso to the effect that if a person does so, his name is not to be counted on either certificate.  State ex rel. Blydenburgh v. Burdick, 6 Wyo. 448 (1896), 46 Pac. 854.

            In the one case involving a situation directly analogous to the instant one, the court held that in a school election where the same voters had signed several different petitions for the same office, the signatures were not rendered invalid inasmuch as there was no express statutory prohibition against signing more than one petition.  Huff v. Black, 259 Ky. 550, 82 S.W. (2d) 473 (1935).  See also 18 Am.Jur., Elections, 258.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            It appears clear from a review of the pertinent cases that in the absence of an express prohibition in the statute against an elector signing more than one petition, the courts will not find any implied restriction.  Accordingly, it is our conclusion that under the pertinent statutes cited above an elector may sign nominating petitions for several candidates for the same office.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

GERALD F. COLLIER
Assistant Attorney General

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