Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1955 No. 172 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


(1) Signature petition sheets for initiatives to the people may contain less than the traditional twenty signature lines and may contain arguments in favor of the proposal together with mailing instructions and still be in substantial compliance with the statutory form.

(2) The secretary of state as chief election officer of the state may properly issue a regulation concerning the form of such petitions.

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                                                               December 15, 1955

Honorable Earl Coe
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 172

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of November 15, 1955, you advise that a sponsor of a proposed initiative to the people has submitted to your office for approval a signature petition form.  The proposed form, complete with a business reply envelope, is designed for circulation through the mails.  You indicate that the proposed form departs from the statutory form in the following particulars:

            (1) The size of the petition sheets during the course of circulation will exceed the 14" depth specified by statute.  When presented to your office for canvassing however the signature petition sheets will be in compliance with the statutory dimensions.

            (2) Arguments in favor of the measure together with mailing instructions are to be printed on the reverse side of the petition sheets.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (3) The number of lines for signatures has been reduced from the traditional twenty to five lines.

            You ask our opinion on the following questions:

            (1) Would such a form be in substantial compliance with the pertinent statutes?

            (2) Could the secretary of state properly issue a regulation authorizing such a petition form?

            We answer both questions in the affirmative.


            RCW 29.79.080 provides as follows:

            "Upon the ballot title being established, the persons proposing the measure may prepare blank petitions and cause them to be printed upon single sheets of white paper of good quality twelve inches in width and fourteen inches in length, with a margin of one and three‑quarters inches at the top for binding.  Each petition at the time of circulating, signing, and filing with the secretary of state shall consist of not more than five sheets with numbered linesfor not more than twenty signatures on each sheet, with the prescribed warning, title and form of petition on each sheet, and a full, true and correct copy of the proposed measure referred to therein printed on sheets of paper of like size and quality as the petition, firmly fastened together."  (Emphasis supplied)

            We recognize that RCW 29.79.100 which sets out the form of initiative petition for submission to the people makes provision for twenty numbered lines.  In State ex rel. Case v. Superior Court, 81 Wash. 623, the court stated at page 650:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "* * * We think the provision of the law prescribing the form of petitions, in so far as it relates to the number of lines thereon, is directory, in so far as it may be considered as thus prescribing the number of signatures that must be upon the petition.  * * *"

            The statutory specifications for the dimensions of the petition sheets are obviously designed to facilitate their handling.  We believe that if they comply with the prescribed dimensions at the time of filing with the secretary of state they satisfy the statutory requirement.

            On February 2, 1946, this office advised the secretary of state that printing the text of the initiative on the back side of the signature sheets rather than on separate attached sheets was permissible.  Now we are asked to consider whether arguments in favor of the proposal may also be printed on the reverse side.  We do not believe that such printed material would invalidate such petitions provided that all the material required by law is contained on such petitions.  It occurs to us however that in some cases to permit arguments to be printed on the reverse side would tend to divert the attention of the petitioners from the essential material required by law and be confusing to them.  In an individual case it would depend largely upon the length of the text of the proposed initiative, the length of the arguments and the general arrangement of the material on the petition.  We believe these are largely questions of fact and discretion properly to be determined by administrative ruling.

            Accordingly, we advise that in our opinion this is a proper subject for the secretary of state to determine.  RCW 29.04.070 designates the secretary of state as chief election officer of the state.  RCW 29.04.080 authorizes the secretary of state to make rules and regulations not inconsistent with election laws and to facilitate the execution of their provisions by devising uniform forms and procedures.

            We hope the foregoing analysis will prove helpful.  We are returning the sample petition you mailed to us with your request.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General