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AGLO 1971 No. 92 - July 23, 1971
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
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                                                                    July 23, 1971
Mr. Kenneth Gilbert
Elections Supervisor
Office of the Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98501                                                Cite as:  AGLO 1971 No. 92 (not official)
Dear Sir:
            You recently requested the advice of this office relative to the eligibility of candidates for elective positions in noncharter code cities.  In response to that request, an informal memorandum was issued from this office which construed RCW 35A.12.030.  Upon reviewing this memorandum, and with additional time for reflection, we regret that we must inform you that the answer therein given appears to have been in error.
            To avoid any possibility of further confusion, we will now respond to your prior question, in the light of the provisions relating to the standards of eligibility for elective office in all cities and towns.
            Any consideration of the eligibility of elective officers must begin with the blanket proscription of RCW 42.04.020, which provides as follows:
            "That no person shall be competent to qualify for or hold any elective public office within the state of Washington, or any county, district, precinct, school district, municipal corporation or other district or political subdivision, unless he be a citizen of the United States and state of Washington and an elector of such county, district, precinct, school district, municipality or other district or political subdivision."  (Emphasis supplied.)
            In view of this statute, we start with the proposition that a person desiring to hold a city elective office must at least be an elector of the city or town involved.  However, additional qualifications are established in other sources.
             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
            First Class Cities (10 Cities):
            The manner in which cities of the first class exercise their powers, functions and the duties conferred upon them by law, is controlled by their charters.  RCW 35.22.020.  These cities are subject to RCW 42.04.020, supra, but there is no specific statute establishing other eligibility standards for necessary elective officers.  As a consequence, these cities have the power to adopt additional qualifications.  State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, 177 Wash. 619, 33 P.2d 94 (1934).  Therefore, the necessary eligibility standards for elective officers in these cities are to be found in their respective charters.
            Second Class Cities (4 Cities):
            The eligibility standards for elective officers in second class cities are found in RCW 35.23.030, which provides as follows:
            "No person shall be eligible to hold any elective office in any city of the second class unless he is a registered voter therein and has resided therein for at least one year preceding the date of his election."  (Emphasis supplied.)
            This statute properly lends itself to the rule of construction that a qualifying or conditioning phrase in a statute relates solely to the last antecedent.1/   In this instance, the phrase "for at least one year next preceding the date of his election" qualifies the phrase "resided therein" and not the phrase "registered voter".
            Therefore, in second class cities one must have been a resident for one year and a registered voter (for any length of time) to be eligible for elective office.
            Third Class Cities (73 Cities):
            Eligibility to elective office in third class cities is governed by RCW 35.24.030, which provides as follows:
            "No person shall be eligible to hold an elective office in a city of the third class unless he be a citizen of and a legal resident therein."
             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
            It is clear from this that one need only be an elector (RCW 42.04.020, supra), legal resident and citizen of the city, to be eligible to hold elective office in a third class city.2/
             Fourth Class Cities (157 Cities):
            The eligibility for elective office in fourth class cities (designated towns, see RCW 35.27.010) is established by RCW 35.27.080 as follows:
            "No person shall be eligible to or hold an elective office in a town unless he is a resident and elector therein."
            Therefore, in these towns one need only be a resident and an elector to comply with the state statute.
            Noncharter Code Cities (20 Cities):
            Having dealt with each of the classes of cities and towns, in turn, we now come to the noncharter code cities.  The eligibility for elective office in these cities is controlled by RCW 35A.12.030, which provides as follows:
            "No person shall be eligible to hold elective office under the mayor-council plan unless he shall have been a registered voter and resident of the city for a period of at least one year next preceding his election.  Residence and voting within the limits of any territory which has been included in, annexed to, or consolidated with such city is construed to have been residence within the city.  A mayor or councilman shall hold within the city government no other public office or employment except as permitted under the provisions of chapter 42.23 RCW."  (Emphasis supplied.)
            The question which arises from the underlined language is whether the phrase "for a period of at least one year next preceding his election" only qualifies the phrase "resident of the city" or also qualifies the term "registered voter".  Correcting the advice contained in the memorandum mentioned earlier, we must advise that the phrase in question qualifies both phrases.
            The use of the language "shall have been" precludes following the rule that a qualifying phrase relates only to the last antecedent ("resident of the city").
             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
            In this statute, the word "have" is used as an auxillary to the past participle "been".  Such use expresses completed action.  Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, p. 664, (1966).  In this case, the "completed action" is status as a registered voter and the phrase "for one year . . ." supplies the date at which the action is completed for purposes of the statute.  Without applying the qualifying phrase, we would be presented with a sentence signifying completed action but not denoting when the action is to be regarded as complete.
            Therefore, we are compelled to conclude that the qualifying phrase relates to both objects of the verb, i.e., "registered voter" and "resident of the city."3/
             In short, to be eligible to hold elective office in a noncharter code city, one must be a resident of that city for one year and a registered voter for one year.
            We feel compelled to remark, at this point, on the curious nature of the statute just considered.  This statute is in contrast to all other statutes dealing with the topic of eligibility standards.  In all the others the "rule of thumb" test for candidacy would apply, i.e., could the candidate vote in the election to fill the position he seeks?  Yet here, in a mere twenty cities, qualified and registered voters are denied the opportunity to hold elective office for one year after they have met the age qualification for voting‑-formerly until they were twenty-two years of age, now until they are nineteen.  Still, we have no choice, in view of the language used, whether through error or design, but to give that language the construction required by law.

            We do remind you that statutory language is purely legislative in origin.  It will very likely be felt that it will be of value in the future to have the eligibility standards uniform for all elections.  Persons desiring that end would be well advised to communicate their desires to their legislators.
            We trust this clarification will be of value.
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General
                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***
1/You will note that this is the rule that led in error in the memorandum.  However, the specific language which precludes its use in that instance does not exist in this instance.
2/Unless additional standards are set by ordinance.  See, State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, supra.
3/This result, however distressing to those prohibited from holding public office, will no doubt be consoling to grammarians, particularly those believers in the occult science of sentence diagramming.
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