Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 431 - Dec 9 1952
Attorney General Smith Troy


 In election of city councilmen the candidate receiving highest vote in each ward which he represents is determinative factor as to term of office.

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                                                                December 9, 1952

Honorable Earl Coe
Secretary of State
Chief Election Officer
State of Washington
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 431

 Dear Sir:

             In your request of the 4th instant as to the method of evaluating vote preponderance for the purpose of determining terms of office of councilmen of the City of Puyallup under the provisions of RCW 35.18.020, you submit the following statement of facts:

             The City of Puyallup under the provisions of RCW 35.18 [[chapter 35.18 RCW]], adopted the council-manager plan of government and held its first election in March, 1951.  At that election seven councilmen were named to office.  As the city has councilmanic wards, two councilmen were nominated and elected from each ward and the seventh councilman was nominated and elected at large.

             The successful candidates were:

                         Councilman-at-Large       Candidate A

Ward No. 1     Candidates B and C

Ward No. 2     Candidates D and E

Ward No. 3     Candidates F and G

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The candidates received the number of votes in relation to each other as in the alphabetic sequence above; that is, candidate A received the greatest number of votes (being elected at large), candidate B, the next greatest number of votes, followed by candidates C, D, E, F, and G.

             You ask our opinion as to whether candidates A, B, D, and F may be assigned four year terms and candidates C, E and G be assigned two year terms?

             Our conclusion is that your inquiry should be answered in the affirmative.


             RCW 35.18.020 provides, in part, as follows:

             "All councilmen shall be elected at large or from such districts as may be established by ordinance, serve for a term of four years and until their successors are elected and qualified.  At the first election, they shall be elected from the councilmanic wards or districts then existing; * * * cities electing seven councilmen, the candidates having the four highest number of votes shall be elected for a four year term and the other three for a two year term."

             Certificates of election for four year terms were issued to candidates A, B, C, and D.  Certificates of election for two year terms were issued to candidates E, F and G.  From this it would appear that the citizens of Puyallup at the March 1953 city general election would not, as a whole, be entitled to vote.  The citizens residing in Ward No. 2 would elect one councilman, while citizens residing in Ward No. 3 would elect two councilmen, and citizens residing in Ward No. 1 would not be permitted to participate in the election.

             The question whether all voters of the City of Puyallup may be entitled to participate in each city election poses the problem, in your language, quoted as follows:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "May the vote cast at the March, 1951 election be re‑evaluated [[reevaluated]]by the respective wards to the end that the nominee receiving the greatest number of votes in each ward be assigned a four year term and amended certificates of election be issued at this time?  In other words, may candidates A, B, D and F be assigned four year terms and candidates C, E and G be assigned two year terms?"

             Inasmuch as each ward, it may be assumed, does not have the same number of voters as the other two wards, and as it is clear the councilman-at-large would have a larger vote than any of the candidates of any of the three wards, it is patent that the legislature had in mind that in the determination of the question who were the highest four in the number of votes in each ward, as well as the city at large would be considered; that is, the candidate receiving the highest number of votes in the whole city would be declared elected councilman-at-large and entitled to a four-year term.  In each ward the candidate having the highest number of votes in that ward would be entitled to a certificate of election for a four-year term.  As stated above, it is unlikely that each ward would cast the same number of votes for the candidates for city councilman, and in the election of a councilman-at-large, his constituency aggregates a greater number of voters than in any of the three wards.

             It is the opinion of this office that certificates of election should be corrected and four-year terms assigned to candidates A, B, D and F, and that candidates C, E and G, who were, respectively, elected to the city council from Wards Nos. 1, 2 and 3, be assigned two-year terms.

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Chief AssistantAttorney General