Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1959 No. 89 - Dec 11 1959
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


Two propositions, one for annexing territory to a port district and another inconsistent one for the formation of a new port district consisting of the same territory may be placed on the same ballot at a general election.  However, care should be taken that the voters be restricted to voting affirmatively for only one of the measures.

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                                                               December 11, 1959

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington                                                                                         Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 89

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does the action of a port commission in petitioning the county commissioners, pursuant to RCW 53.04.080, to place on the ballot a proposition for annexing territory to the port district, preclude those persons, whose property the port district desires to annex, from placing on the same ballot a proposition for the formation of a new port district, pursuant to RCW 53.04.050?

            We answer your question in the negative, as qualified in the analysis.


            The following statutes are pertinent to your inquiry:

            RCW 53.04.050, reading as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "When it is desired to create a port district comprising territory less than the entire county in other than class A counties, the county commissioners shall, upon petition of ten percent or more of the electors residing within the proposed boundaries of such proposed district based on the total vote at the last general election within such area, submit to the qualified electors residing within such proposed district the proposition of creating such port district.  If at any such election a majority of the votes cast thereon shall be in favor of establishing such port district and the total vote cast upon such question shall equal one third of the total vote cast at the last preceding general election within such area, such port district shall be established."

            RCW 53.04.080, reading in part as follows:

            "At any general election or at any special election which may be called for that purpose the board of county commissioners of any county in this state in which there exists a port district which is not coextensive with the limits of the county, shall on petition of the commissioners of such port district, by resolution, submit to the voters residing within the limits of any territory which the existing port district desires to annex or include in its enlarged port district, the proposition of enlarging the limits of such existing port districts so as to include therein the whole of the territory embraced within the boundaries of such county, or such territory as may be described in said petition by legal subdivisions.  Such petition shall be filed with the county auditor, who shall forthwith transmit the same to the board of county commissioners, who shall submit such proposition at the next general election, or, if such petition so request, the board of county commissioners, shall at their first meeting after the date of filing such petition, by resolution, call a special election to be held not less than thirty days nor more than sixty days from the date of filing such petition.  The notice of election shall state the boundaries of the proposed enlarged port district and the object of the special election. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In your letter you outlined the following circumstances which caused you to submit the instant question to our office: Grant County Port District No. 1, acting pursuant to RCW 53.04.080, has filed a petition with the commissioners of Grant county requesting that at the next general election a proposition be placed on the ballot to have the northern part of Grant county annexed to Port District No. 1.  Certain persons, residing in the area proposed to be annexed by Port District No. 1, desire to submit, at the same election, a ballot proposition for the formation of a new port district.

            As we view your problem, it concerns itself primarily with a question of statutory interpretation.  It is fundamental that in examining any statute our prime purpose should always be to discover the legislative intent.  Layton v. Home Indemnity Co., 9 Wn. (2d) 25, 113 P. (2d) 538 (1941).  If a statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no necessity to go beyond its four corners in order to discover its meaning.  It is only when we are faced with an ambiguity that it becomes necessary to resort to extrinsic aids to statutory construction.  It is our conclusion that the statutes in question are free from ambiguity.

            By the enactment of the statutes previously quoted, a mandatory duty has been placed upon the county commissioners to submit to the voters, under the circumstances prescribed, the proposition of creating a new port district on the one hand, or enlarging an existing district on the other.

            We are unaware of any prohibition against both of these propositions appearing on the same ballot at a general election, should the necessary conditions be fulfilled simultaneously.  It is axiomatic that two statutes dealing with the same subject should be construed, if at all possible, in a manner which will give full effect to both.  City of Tacoma v. Cavanaugh, 45 Wn. (2d) 500, 275 P. (2d) 933 (1954).  It would not be in accord with this position to conclude that the appearance of one proposition necessarily precluded the inclusion of the other on the same ballot, when the circumstances prescribed by both statutes exist.

            We should point out that a ballot containing two such conflicting propositions must conform to the necessary rule that in the submission of propositions to the voters, the ballot must be free from ambiguity or uncertainty.  29 C.J.S. 246, Elections, § 170; People v. Sullivan, 247 Ill. 176, 93 N.E. 97 (1910).


            In this respect, it will be necessary that the individual voters be restricted, in so far as an affirmative vote is concerned, to voting for only one of the measures.  Obviously, the propositions are inconsistent with each other, and an impossible situation would occur if more than one of them were approved by the people at the same  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] election.  It is for this reason that the voters should be instructed to cast affirmative votes for only one of the measures.  With these qualifications in mind, we answer your question in the manner heretofore indicated.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Yours very truly,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General