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AGLO 1975 No. 78 - September 10, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

ELECTIONS ‑- POLITICAL PARTIES ‑- NOMINATION OF MINOR PARTY CANDIDATE FOR OFFICE OF COUNTY COMMISSIONER

At a minor political party convention under chapter 29.24 RCW persons who are not qualified electors of the county commissioner district involved may not be counted as valid signers of a certificate of nomination of the party's candidate for the office of county commissioner.

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                                                              September 10, 1975

Honorable James P. Kuehnle
State Representative, 4th District
S. 1122 Skyline Pl.
Spokane, Washington 99206                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1975 No. 78

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            At a minor political party convention under chapter 29.24 RCW, may persons who are not qualified electors of the county commissioner district involved be counted as valid signers of a certificate of nomination of the party's candidate for the office of county commissioner?

            We answer this question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 29.24 RCW provides for the nomination of candidates for elective offices in this state by what are referred to therein as minor political parties.1/   [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] The process by which this is to be done involves the conduct of a minor party convention to be held ". . . on the same day that state primary elections are held." RCW 29.24.020.

            The basic attendance requirements of a minor party convention are set forth in RCW 29.24.030 as follows:

            "To be valid, a minor party convention must:

            "(1) Be attended by at least one hundred registered voters; or in lieu thereof ten registered voters from each congressional district in the state of Washington;

            "(2) Have been called by a notice published in a newspaper of general circulation published in the county in which the convention is to be held at least ten days before the date of the primary election stating the date, hour, place of meeting and a general statement of the principles of the organization."

            RCW 29.24.040 then sets forth the requisites of a valid certificate of nomination, including a requirement that it be signed by,

            ". . . at least one hundred registered voters present at the convention and who did not vote at the primary election held on that day, or in lieu thereof be signed by at least ten registered voters from each  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] congressional district in the state of Washington present at a convention, and who did not vote at the primary election held on that day;"

            Complementing the disqualification provision of this statute is RCW 29.24.050 which declares that:

            "The signature of a minor party nominating certificate of a person who voted in the primary held on the day of the convention is invalid."

            Next, RCW 29.24.060 requires the secretary of state, upon receiving a minor party certificate of nomination, to verify the validity of the signatures appearing thereon.  Then, if the nominating certificate is found to be valid, RCW 29.24.070 provides that each candidate nominated by the minor party convention involved may file a declaration of candidacy with the secretary of state.  All of this must be accomplished within one week after the date of the convention ‑ or, in the words of RCW 29.24.080, ". . . not later than the first Tuesday after the date of the September primaries."

            Finally, insofar as is here material, RCW 29.24.090 provides that:

            "If any nominations made by such convention are intended for county, district or other local offices and valid declarations of candidacy have been filed, the secretary of state shall transmit the same to the appropriate county officers for printing upon the official ballot at the same time and in the same manner as nominations for other offices are transmitted, and shall at the same time transmit the filing fees of such county, district or local candidates to the respective county treasurers."

            Clearly, this last quoted section of chapter 29.24 RCW evidences an intent on the part of the legislature that the convention process of nominating candidates by a minor partyis applicable to county or other local offices as well as to state offices.  Yet nowhere within the confines of this chapter or in any other law do we find  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] anything purporting to say, in general, that the only participants in a minor party convention who may sign a certificate of nomination for a less than state‑wide electoral office are those residing within the constituency served by the particular office.  Thus, but for the special statute relating to county commissioners to which we must next turn our attention, it would appear not only that any registered voters of the county involved could sign a nominating certificate for that office but, in addition, that registered voters residing elsewhere in the state could do so as well.  For example, a minor party convention held in King county, and attended solely by one hundred registered voters of that county, could nominate candidates for county offices, including that of county commissioner, for every county in the state ‑ as the law relating to minor parties now reads.

            To so conclude in the particular case of county commissioners, however, would in our judgment run afoul of the provisions of RCW 36.32.040, a statute specifically dealing with the office in question and that office only.  While the section which follows it, RCW 36.32.050, says that county commissioners are to be elected by the qualified voters of the entire county which they are to serve, RCW 36.32.040 provides for the nomination of candidates for this county office only by the voters of their respective commissioner districts.  The full text of this latter statute reads as follows:

            "The qualified electors of each county commissioner district, and they only, shall nominate from among their own number, candidates for the office of county commissioner of such commissioner district to be voted for at the following general election.  Such candidates shall be nominated in the same manner as candidates for other county and district offices are nominated in all other respects."

            Although the second sentence of this statute says that in all other respects candidates for the office of county commissioner are to be nominated in the same manner as candidates for other county offices ‑ thus clearly sanctioning nominations by the minor party convention process2/ - the first sentence of the statute sets forth a  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] single notable exception.  In accordance with the express terms of this sentence, the qualified electors of each county commissioner district, and they only, are to nominate (from among their own number) candidates for the office of county commissioner to be voted for at the following general election.

            This exception, it seems to us, must be honored and given effect not only where the nomination is to be made by the electoral process at a partisan primary for the nomination of candidates to represent "major" political parties3/ but, as well, in the case of nomination by a minor political party convention.  Therefore, because of the provisions of RCW 36.32.040, we believe that your question ‑ as it relates, specifically, to the office of county commissioner ‑ must be answered in the negative.4/

             We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/RCW 29.01.100 defines the term "minor political party" to mean ". . . a political organization other than a major political party."

            A "major political party", in the words of RCW 29.01.090, means:

            "(1) In a state‑wide election, a political party of which at least one nominee received at least ten percent of the total vote cast at the last preceding state‑wide general election;

            "(2) In an election by a constituency confined to a political subdivision of the state, a political party of which at least one nominee received at least ten percent of the total vote cast in that political subdivision at the last preceding general election by that constituency;

            "(3) In a city or town election, a political party of which at least one nominee received at least ten percent of the total vote cast in the last preceding general city or town election therein."

2/Accord, RCW 29.24.040, supra.

3/See, in general, chapter 29.18 RCW.

4/In so concluding, however, we should point out a potential constitutional problem with this result in some counties.   While the total number of registered voters in each commissioner district in a large county such as yours (Spokane county) is undoubtedly sufficient to make it relatively easy to gather one hundred or more of them together in order to hold a minor party convention to nominate a candidate for county commissioner, this would not be so simple in a small county such as San Juan or Garfield ‑ with perhaps no more than three or four hundred registered voters in all residing in each commissioner district.  Conceivably, therefore, a court might well hold in such a case that the requirement imposed by reading chapter 29.24 RCW and RCW 36.32.040 together, as we have here done, is unreasonable from a constitutional due process or equal protection standpoint.

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