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Municipal Elections

This page addresses both the nuts and bolts of municipal elections and the issue of the use of public facilities and public office in election campaigns. 

Overview

 Municipal elections, like state elections, are governed by the provisions of Title 29A RCW. The Office of the Secretary of State has general authority over the conduct of elections, and its Elections & Voting webpages provide comprehensive information on many election issues. In addition, much of what is involved in elections for municipal offices is addressed in our publication, Getting into Office: Being Elected or Appointed into Office in Washington, Counties, Cities, and Towns, which was updated in 2018.

The prohibition on using public offices or facilities in election campaigns or in support of or in opposition to ballot measures is contained in RCW 42.17A.555 (formerly RCW 42.17.130). Issues potentially implicating this prohibition arise frequently during the months preceding municipal elections.

The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has regulatory and enforcement authority regarding the prohibition in RCW 42.17A.555, and it is the source of much information concerning its scope. The PDC consists of five part-time commissioners appointed by the governor, an executive director, and a small staff. The PDC is available through its staff to respond to questions concerning ballot measures and campaign issues and to provide informal opinions. The PDC staff encourages local government officials to contact them with questions in advance of a proposed activity that may involve the use of public facilities in a ballot campaign. The PDC also regulates election campaign financing.


Legal References

Statutes and Regulations

  • Title 29A RCW — Comprehensive list of provisions required for municipal elections in the state
  • Ch 42.17A RCW — Addresses campaign disclosure and contributions to campaigns while RCW 42.17A.555 addresses the use of public office or agency facilities in campaigns, notes prohibitions and exceptions
  • Title 390 WAC — Establishes the Public Disclosure Commission while WAC 390-05-271 addresses the general applications of RCW 42.17A.555

Selected Attorney General Opinions

  • AGO 2006 No. 1 — Addresses the authority of governing boards of special purpose districts to pass resolutions endorsing or opposing ballot propositions; Note amendment to RCW 42.17.130 (now RCW 42.17A.555) in Section 2 of Ch. 215, Laws of 2006.
  • AGO 2005 No. 4 — Addresses the meaning of the term "elected legislative body" as used in RCW 42.17.130 (now RCW 42.17A.555); Note amendment in Section 2 of Ch. 215, Laws of 2006
  • AGO 1975 No. 23 — Addresses the use of office facilities to promote the passage or defeat of ballot propositions

Recommended Resources

Office of the Secretary of State: Elections and Voting

MRSC: Publications Covering Election Issues

MRSC Insight Blog

MRSC Publications

Public Disclosure Commission: Restrictions on the Use of Public Facilities


Last Modified: October 30, 2018