Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1982 No. 7 -
Attorney General Ken Eikenberry


(1) The "next general election," for the purposes of RCW 53.12.120 as amended by § 1, chapter 219, Laws of 1982 (relating to the means of increasing the number of commissioners in certain port districts), will be the November, 1983 port district general election as provided for in RCW 29.13.020. 

(2) In connection with the election of additional port commissioners under RCW 53.12.120, supra, as amended, and RCW 53.12.130, a primary election will be in order, in accordance with RCW 53.12.055, in the event that more candidates should file for either of the two, proposed, additional positions.

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

                                                                   June 10, 1982 

Honorable Ralph Munro
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

 Cite as:  AGO 1982 No. 7                                                                                                                 

Dear Sir:

           By recent letter you directed our attention to RCW 53.12.120 as amended by § 1, chapter 219, Laws of 1982, authorizing port districts with populations over 500,000 to increase the number of their port commissioners from three to five.  You then requested our opinion on the following questions:

             "1. May the proposition for increasing the membership on the board and the election of the new commissioners be submitted to the voters at the 1982 General Election, or is the 1983 General Election ‑ the next Port District General Election ‑ the 'next general election' within the meaning of this act?

             "2. If your answer is that the elections must be held this November, what would be the length of the terms of the new commissioners, in view of the fact that two, four or six year terms would make future elections for these positions inconsistent with the odd-year general election requirement for port districts?

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "3. Would primary elections for the new positions be required, keeping in mind that Chapter 219 makes no reference to primary elections and that the positions themselves will not exist until the general election?"

             We respond to your questions in the manner set forth in our analysis.


             Set forth in bill form for ease of reference, § 1, chapter 219, Laws of 1982 amends the provisions of RCW 53.12.120, relating to port districts, to read as follows:

             "((In port districts having a population of)) When the population of a port district reaches five hundred thousand ((or more)), in accordance with the latest United Statesregular or special census or with the official state population estimate, there shall be submitted to the voters of the district, at the ((first))next general election ((after June 11, 1953)) or at a special port election called for that purpose, the proposition of increasing the number of commissioners to five.  At any general election thereafter, the same proposition may be submitted by resolution of the port commissioners, by filing a certified copy of the resolution with the county auditor at least four months prior to the general election.  If the proposition is adopted, the commission in that port district shall consist of five commissioners in positions numbered as specified in RCW 53.12.035, the additional commissioners to take office five days after the election."

             In posing your questions you also provided us with a copy of an opinion recently issued by the Pierce County prosecuting attorney on, in essence, your first question.1/   We agree with his analysis and answer.  Clearly, the next general election for port districts in this state, under RCW 29.13.010 and 29.13.020, is the  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] November 7,1983 general election.  Specifically, RCW 29.13.020 provides that:

             "All city, town, and district general elections shall be held throughout the state of Washington on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in theodd-numbered years.

             ". . .

             "This section shall supersede the provisions of any and all other statutes, whether general or special in nature, having different dates for such city, town, and district elections, the purpose of this section being to establish mandatory dates for holding elections."2/   (Emphasis supplied)

             And presumably the legislature, in enacting § 1, chapter 219,supra, was fully aware of that fact.  For it is well established that the legislature is presumed to be familiar with its own prior enactments when it passes a new law.  Daly v. Chapman, 85 Wn. 2d 780, 539 P.2d 831 (1975) and cases cited therein.  It therefore seems entirely proper to conclude that the legislature had that election in mind when it referred, in § 1, chapter 219, supra, to the "next" general election‑-insofar as the election of port commissioners is concerned.

             Moreover we also note the duration of port commissioners' terms of office.  Generally speaking, they serve six-year terms commencing on January 1 following their election.  See, RCW 53.12.220, RCW 29.04.170 and RCW 29.13.050.  In the case of additional port commissioners resulting from an expansion of the board in accordance with RCW 53.12.120,supra, however, RCW 53.12.130 provides as follows:

             ". . . The additional commissioner thus elected receiving the highest number of votes shall hold office for six years and the other shall hold office for four years from the date provided by law for port commissioners to next  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] commence their terms of office.

             "A successor to a commissioner holding position four or five whose term is about to expire, shall be elected at the general election next preceding such expiration, for a term of six years."

             It will thus be seen that if those additional commissioners were to be elected at the November, 1982state general election instead of the November, 1983port district election, there would, indeed, be an anamoly in that the two new commissioners thus elected would then serve terms which would be totally out of step with the terms of the other commissioners.  The legislature, however, is also to be presumed not to engage in such frivolity.  As stated inIn Re Horse Heaven Irrigation District, 11 Wn.2d 218, 226, 118 P.2d 972 (1941):

             "It is a rule of such universal application as to need no citation of sustaining authority that no construction should be given to a statute which leads to gross injustice or absurdity."

             We thus answer your first question in terms of the November, 1983 port district general election, and not the 1982 state general election.3/   We thus pass over your second question and turn, next, to your third which, repeated for ease of reference asks:

             "Would primary elections for the new positions be required, keeping in mind that Chapter 219 makes no reference to primary elections and that the positions themselves will not exist until the general election?"

             We believe that a primary election will be in order, even though the positions themselves will not come into existence until after the election, in line with the following provisions of RCW 53.12.055:

             "In the event that more than two candidates are filed after the last day for withdrawal of candidacy, in port districts in class AA and class A counties, the county auditor shall conduct a port district primary at the time  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] provided by general law for such primaries.


            "In the event that after the last day for withdrawal of candidacy no more than two candidates are filed for the office of port district commissioner in any port commissioner district of a port district located in a class A county or for any numbered position for port district commissioner in any port district in a class AA county, the county auditor shall not conduct a primary and shall notify the candidates that there will be no primary."

             Basically, as we view it, RCW 53.12.130, supra, contemplates the conduct of a full election process for the proposed new positions‑-and RCW 53.12.055, supra, is a part of that process in those port districts (such as the Port of Tacoma) which are situated in Class AA and Class A counties.

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

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/We note, in this regard, that the only port district to which chapter 219, supra, has immediate application is the Port of Tacoma‑-in Pierce County.  The prosecuting attorney's opinion was written to the county auditor who, of course, is responsible for the conduct of elections in that county.

2/While certain exceptions to this general proposition are then stated, none of those exceptions would cover the instant situation.  By virtue of its final paragraph, this statute supersedes (in the case of port districts) RCW 53.12.060, 53.12.160 and 53.12.210 insofar as the time of elections is concerned.

 3/Unless, of course, a special election is called for, and conducted, earlier in accordance with RCW 53.12.120,supra, together with RCW 29.13.020(a) through (f).