Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1983 No. 11 - June 07, 1983
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- SECRETARY OF STATE ‑- ELECTIONS ‑- RECORDS ‑- POLITICAL PARTIES' COSTS OF STATE‑WIDE COMPUTER TAPE OF REGISTERED VOTERS 

In providing the state central committee of each major political party with a duplicate copy of the master state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters ". . . at actual duplication costs, . . ."  as required by RCW 29.04.160, the Secretary of State may not include in the charge the amounts his office was required to pay each county, in accordance with RCW 29.04.150, for a duplicate computer tape or data file of its records of registered voters in that county. 

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    June 7, 1983

Honorable R. Ted Bottiger
Senate Majority Leader
8849 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, Washington 98444
Honorable Jeannette Hayner
Senate Republican Leader
Box 454
Walla Walla, Washington 99362

  Cite as:  AGO 1983 No. 11                                                                                                               

 Dear Senators Bottiger and Hayner:

             By recent letter you requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

             In providing the state central committee of each major political party with a duplicate copy of the master state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters ". . . at actual duplication costs, . . ." as required by RCW 29.04.160, may the Secretary of State include in the charge the amounts his office was required to pay to each county, in accordance with RCW 29.04.150, for a duplicate computer tape or data file of its records of registered voters in that county?

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

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS                                                                           

             By its enactment of § 2, chapter 46, Laws of 1975-76, 2nd Ex. Sess., now codified as RCW 29.04.150, the legislature provided as follows:

             "Not earlier than January 1st nor later than February 1st of each calendar year and not earlier than July 1st nor later than August 1st of each calendar year each county auditor shall provide to the secretary of state, or a data processing agency designated by him, a duplicate computer tape or data file of the records of the registered voters in that county, containing the information specified in RCW 29.07.220.  The secretary of state shall reimburse each county for the actual cost of reproduction and mailing of the duplicate computer tape or data file.  He shall arrange for a master computer tape or data file of the records of all the registered voters of the state to be compiled."  (Emphasis supplied)

             Then, by section 3 of the same act (since codified as RCW 29.04.160), the legislature provided that:

             "No later than February 15th and no later than August 15th of each year,the secretary of state shall provide a duplicate copy of the master state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters to the state central committee of each major political party, at actual duplication cost, . . .  The master state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters or portions of the tape or file shall be available to any other political party,at actual duplication cost, upon written request to the secretary of state.  Restrictions as to the commercial use of the information on the state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters, and penalties for its misuse, shall be the same as provided in RCW 29.04.110 and 29.04.120 as now existing or hereafter amended."1/   (Emphasis supplied)

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            For the last several years, based in part on informal advice from this office, it appears that the Secretary of State has, in turn, been charging the major political parties a fee, under RCW 29.04.160, supra, which includes both of the following factors:

             (1) The Secretary of State's own actual cost of duplicating the master computer tape or data file of the records of all registered voters which his office has prepared in accordance with the concluding sentence of RCW 29.04.150,supra; and

             (2) A proportionate share of those amounts paid by his office to the respective county auditors to reimburse each such county for its costs of reproduction and mailing a duplicate computer tape or data file of the county's registered voters to the Secretary of State under, again, RCW 29.04.150, supra.

            Your present request calls upon us to determine the legal propriety of that practice.  And our answer, based upon further review and consideration of the subject statutes, is that it represents a misunderstanding of those statutes.

            As we now read the statutes, RCW 29.04.150 and RCW 29.04.160,supra, they are independent sections‑-albeit enacted as part of the same 1976 law.  One deals with the relationship between the Secretary of State and the various county auditors and the other deals with the Secretary of State vis a vis the political parties after the first of the two statutes has been fully complied with.

             The first statute, RCW 29.04.150, imposes a statutory responsibility on the Secretary of State to arrange for the compilation of a master computer tape or data file for all registered voters.  That legislatively-imposed obligation exists irrespective of whether one of the major political parties chooses to avail itself of the opportunity to secure a copy "at actual duplication cost."  Even if no political party wants a copy, the Secretary of State nevertheless must incur the cost of preparing the record and transmitting a copy to the Statute Law Committee without cost.  And what the political parties are statutorily entitled to receive is a copy of the record as assembled and maintained by the Secretary of State‑-as distinguished from a duplication of records maintained by the various counties.

             Conversely, our earlier informal advice was based upon the erroneous premise that the Secretary of State functions as an agent of the requestor under the second statute, RCW 29.04.160, in preparing for it a duplication of county election records.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            It is true, of course, that the ultimate cost to the Secretary of State's Office in (a) obtaining, (b) compiling and (c) duplicating the ultimate thing of which each of the major political parties is statutorily entitled to receive a copy2/ necessarily includes the amounts paid to the respective county auditors fortheir computer tapes or data files.  Nevertheless, the only cost item which the Secretary of State has been authorized by the legislature to pass on to those political parties is the "actual duplication cost" of the aforesaid "ultimate" product.  Accordingly, we believe that the proper answer to your question, as above paraphrased, is in the negative.

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

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Senior Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/Subsequently, this latter provision was amended to provide that, in addition, the Secretary of State ". . . shall provide a duplicate copy of the master state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters to the Statute Law Committee without cost."  See, § 1, chapter 226, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess.

 2/I.e., the master state‑wide computer tape or data file of registered voters prepared in accordance with RCW 29.04.150, supra.

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo