Washington State

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Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1954 No. 227 - Mar 22 1954
Attorney General Don Eastvold


At a regular city election where a proposition to authorize construction of a city fire hall was placed upon the ballot, only those ballots which voted for or against the proposition are to be counted in order to ascertain whether the measure passed by a constitutional majority; ballots which were blank upon the proposition being ignored.

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                                                                  March 22, 1954

Honorable Earl Coe
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 227

Attention:  !ttMr. KenGilbert, Chief,  Elections Division

Dear Sir:

            Responding to your letter of March 18, 1954, we advise that the bond issue proposition presented to the voters of Tumwater at the city election on March 9, 1954, to authorize the building of a new fire hall, passed by the required constitutional majority.


            At the Tumwater city election on March 9, 1954, a bond issue proposition was submitted to the voters.  The purpose thereof was to authorize the construction of a city fire hall, and the election was held pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (b), 17th Amendment of the State Constitution.  No question is raised concerning the total number of votes cast, since it is clear that the 40% requirement was exceeded by a considerable margin.  The only question is whether the proposition passed by the required three‑fifths majority.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Const., Amendment 17, paragraph (b) provides in part as follows:

            "* * * when authorized so to do by majority of at least three‑fifths of the electors thereof voting on the proposition to issue such bonds * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            At this particular election 467 ballots voted "yes," 311 ballots voted "no," and 7 ballots cast no vote on the proposition.  It is apparent that if the constitution requires only the votes for and against the measure to be counted, the three‑fifths requirement was met.  If, however, it is necessary to count the 7 ballots casting no vote on the proposition, the measure lost.

            Words could hardly express more clearly the idea that only those ballots voting on the proposition are to be counted.  This is the very language of the constitutional provision.  There being no ambiguity, it is wholly unnecessary to rely upon any rules of construction, and the matter should be governed by a literal reading of the language used.

            Even were the language less clear, we believe that the rule has been established in this state that, unless the constitutional language clearly requires a contrary interpretation, such provisions refer to a majority of the votes actually cast on the proposition, and not to a percentage of the total number of votes cast at the election, including those which were blank on the proposition in issue.

            InFox v. Seattle, 43 Wash. 74, the court construed the language of constitution, Article 8, § 6, relating to bond issues, which provision provides:

            "'* * * three‑fifths of the voters therein voting at an election to be held for that purpose.'"

            Clearly, if this language were literally followed, and the election were held solely for that single purpose, the problem we are faced with here would not arise.  But in theFox case, the election held for that purpose was held in conjunction with a general city election.  Nevertheless, the court held that the constitutional language should be so interpreted that the portion of the election relating to the bond issue proposal should be considered its own election.  Necessarily then only those ballots voting for and against the measure should be counted in order to ascertain the numerical requirement of a three‑fifths  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] majority.  The rule of theFox case was again discussed in American Smelting Co. v. Tacoma School District, 15 Wn. (2d) 1, at page 8, although this was not the ultimate issue of the case.

            We think it clear that the rule in this state is that only the votes cast for and against a proposition are to be counted.  Even if this rule were not established by judicial decision, it seems that no other result could be reached in the light of the specific language of Amendment 17, paragraph (b).

            Applying that proposition mathematically to this election, we reach the following result:

                                    Total votes cast                                          785

                                    Less blank ballots                                           7

                                    Number of votes to be counted             778

                                    Three‑fifths majority required by

                                                constitution                                  466.8

                                    Number of Yes votes cast                           467

            We advise that the proposition carried by a margin of .2 votes over the constitutional majority required.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General