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AGO 1968 No. 3 - January 18, 1968
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS - IRRIGATION - ELECTIONS - QUALIFICATIONS OF VOTERS

Except in the case of ownership of more than ten acres of land in an irrigation district, as provided for by RCW 87.03.045, the fact that the same person holds a number of qualifying legal or equitable interests in one or more parcels of qualified land located in an irrigation district does not entitle that person to cast a multiple number of votes, equal to the number of his interests, at a single irrigation district election.

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                                                                 January 18, 1968

Honorable Vaughn Hubbard
State Representative, 11th District
Box 126
Waitsburg, Washington 99361

                                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 1968 No. 3

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter in which you have raised a question as to the scope of an earlier opinion of this office, AGO 61-62 No. 157.  We paraphrase your present question as follows:

            Where the same person holds a number of qualifying legal or equitable interests in one or more parcels of qualified land located in an irrigation district, is he thereby entitled, under RCW 87.03.045, to cast a multiple number of votes, equal to the number of his interests, at a single irrigation district election?

            We answer your question in the negative subject to the qualifications set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            AGO 61-62 No. 157, to which you have referred, related in principal part to the requisite qualifications for voting in an irrigation district election.  Thus, the opinion involved an interpretation of RCW 87.03.045.  The material portion of this statute, in terms of voter qualifications, reads as follows:

            "A person twenty-one years old, being a citizen of the United States and a resident of the state andwho holds title or evidence of title to land in the district or proposed district shall be entitled to vote therein, except that any such  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] person shall only be entitled to vote in a district comprising two hundred thousand or more acres, or in any other district to which this exception is made applicable as hereinafter provided, ifhe holds title or evidence of title to land other than land platted or subdivided into residence or business lots and not being used for agricultural or horticultural purposes, in which event, in a district comprising two hundred thousand or more acres,he shall be entitled to one vote for the first ten acres of said land or fraction thereof and one additional vote for all of said land over ten acres. . . . Where land is community property both the husband and wife may vote if otherwise qualified. . . ." (Emphasis supplied)

            In interpreting this statute in AGO 61-62 No. 157, supra, we were concerned with a number of questions relative to what constitutes the holding of title or evidence of title to land in an irrigation district.  We concluded that this terminology included the following persons:

            (1) A contract purchaser of land in an irrigation district;

            (2) A contract vendor of land in an irrigation district;

            (3) The heirs and devisees of a deceased holder of title to land in an irrigation district;

            (4) An incompetent person holding title to land in an irrigation district;

            (5) Persons holding title to land in an irrigation district as tenants in common;

            (6) Persons holding title to land in an irrigation district as joint tenants;

            (7) Husband and wife holding land in an irrigation district as community property; and

            (8) A trustee who holds title to land in an irrigation district for the benefit of another person.

            Conversely, we concluded that the following persons did not meet this qualification:

            (1) The executor or administrator of the estate of a deceased holder of title to land in an irrigation district;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            (2) The guardian of an incompetent person who holds title to land in an irrigation district; and

            (3) The beneficiary of a trust which holds title to land in an irrigation district.

            In thus concluding, we relied to a large extent on the only reported decision of our supreme court construing the statute in question, RCW 87.03.045,supra.  The case wasState ex rel. Holt v. Hamilton, 118 Wash. 91, 202 Pac. 971 (1921), involving, specifically, the right of a contract purchaser of land in an irrigation district to vote in a district election.  The pertinent portion of the court's decision, upholding the right of this contract purchaser to cast his vote, reads as follows:

            "A copy of the contract, which is alleged in the complaint to be of the same character as all of the other contracts involved, is attached to and made a part of the complaint.  It is the ordinary contract for the sale of real property, with the time essence clause and provisions for forfeiture.  It contains provisions requiring the purchaser to improve the land and grow crops upon the same, and expressly requires the purchaser to pay all irrigation district assessments.  There is a further provision that the purchaser shall be entitled to keep possession as long as the contract is kept in good standing.  We do not think it is necessary to define the legal standing of a contract of this character in all respects.  In our opinion, the legislature used the words 'evidence of title' for a purpose, and to permit the people who have written evidence of their right to acquire title, coupled with possession and actual control of the land, the people, who are the ones really interested in the proper operation of the affairs of the district and are the ones who have to meet its burdens, to have a voice in selecting the officers to operate the irrigation district."  (Emphasis supplied)

            However, with one notable exception, nothing in that case, nor in the statute construed, nor in any other statute relating to irrigation districts gives any indication of intent on the part of the legislature to entitle the same person to vote more than once in a single irrigation district election simply because he has a number of qualifying legal interests in a particular tract, or owns a number of qualifying parcels of land (i.e., other than platted or subdivided lands which are not being used for agricultural or horticultural purposes see  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] RCW 87.03.045, supra) in the district.  The one exception to this proposition is, of course, the exception which is expressly stated in RCW 87.03.045, supra, which entitles a person who holds title or evidence to title to ten or more acres of qualified land in an irrigation district comprising two hundred thousand or more acres,

            ". . . to one vote for the first ten acres of said land or fraction thereof, and one additional vote for all of said land over ten acres. . . ."

            The presence of this one express exception, of course, further negates the possibility of reading any other exception into the statute by implication.  The generally recognized rule is that the express mention of one thing in a statute implies exclusion of other similar matters.  This rule is expressed in the Latin maxim "expressio unius est exclusio alterius."  See,State ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Dept. P. S., 1 Wn.2d 102, 95 P.2d 1007 (1939).

            What is, perhaps, confusing, in terms of the application of RCW 87.03.045,supra, is that there can, quite definitely, be situations in which a number of persons will be qualified to vote in an irrigation district election by virtue of their respective interests in a single parcel of land.  For example, a husband and wife holding land in an irrigation district as community property are both expressly granted the right to vote.  Likewise, under the conclusions which we reached in AGO 61-62 No. 157, supra, both a contract purchaser and a contract vendor of qualified land in an irrigation district are entitled to vote in a district election.  However, to say that a number of persons are entitled to vote in an election based upon their respective interests in the same parcel of land is by no means to say that the same person, by virtue of a number of different legal or equitable interests can thereby cast a multiplicity of votes.

            Accordingly, we answer your question, as paraphrased, in the negative except to the extent of the qualification expressly provided for by RCW 87.03.045,supra relative to ownership of ten or more acres of qualified land in an irrigation district consisting of two hundred thousand or more acres.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

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