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Council Voting

Quorum

The general rule governing the transaction of council business is that a majority of councilmembers must be present at the meeting to constitute a quorum. This means four members of a seven-member council and three members of a five-member council. A quorum is necessary to transact business.

Mayoral Vote

In charter cities, the charter governs the role and powers of the mayor.

In cities and towns operating under the mayor-council form of government, the mayor may vote only in case of a tie vote of the council (Second Class Cities: RCW 35.23.201; Towns: RCW 35.27.280; Optional Municipal Code Cities: RCW 35A.12.100). However, statutes for each class of city may further limit the situations in which a mayor may break a tie vote. For example, in code cities under the mayor-council plan, the mayor may not vote to break a tie with respect to the passage of an ordinance, a resolution for the payment of money, a grant, or revocation of franchise or license (RCW 35A.12.100).

In all cities and towns operating under the council-manager form of government, the mayor is eligible to vote in his or her capacity as councilmember only (RCW 35A.13.030 and RCW 35.18.190).

  • Second Class Cities - At least four councilmembers must vote for passage of any ordinance, resolution, or order. Note that this means that the mayor's vote cannot be used to break a 3-3 tie vote, as the votes of four councilmembers are necessary (RCW 35.23.211).
  • Towns - At least three councilmembers must vote for passage of any resolution or order for the payment of money. Note that this means that the mayor's vote cannot be used to break a 2-2 tie vote on these issues, as the votes of three councilmembers are necessary (RCW 35.27.270).
  • Code Cities - A majority of the entire membership of the council is required to vote for passage of any ordinance, grant, revocation of franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money (RCW 35A.12.120). Therefore, the mayor may not break a tie vote on any of these matters.

Mayor Veto Power

  • Council-Manager Cities - The mayor has no veto power in cities organized under the council-manager plan of government, voting as a councilmember.
  • Second Class Mayor - Council Cities - The mayor may veto an ordinance, but the mayor's veto can be overruled by five members of the council (RCW 35.23.211).
  • Towns - The mayor has no veto power in towns.
  • Mayor-Council Code Cities - The mayor may veto an ordinance, but the mayor's veto can be overruled by a majority plus one of the entire council membership (RCW 35A.12.130).

Abstentions

In the absence of a local statute to the contrary, councilmembers are free to abstain from voting on any issue before the council. Some cities have adopted local rules of procedure allowing abstentions only when the councilmember states his or her reason for abstaining. Other cities require councilmembers to vote on all matters before the council unless a conflict of interest exists. When a conflict of interest exists, a councilmember should refrain from voting. Generally, however, other councilmembers cannot restrain a councilmember from voting due to a conflict of interest or for any other reason.

The effect of an abstention on a vote is not specified by state law. Municipalities are free to adopt local rules of procedure to stipulate the effect of an abstention.

Voting by Proxy

It is a fundamental rule of parliamentary law that the right to vote is limited to those members actually present at the time a vote is taken at a legal meeting. State law is silent as to proxy voting by councilmembers. As a general rule, proxy votes are not permitted (Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 1990 Edition, page 415). If the city or town has not adopted a rule of procedure to the contrary, councilmembers must be present at the time the vote is taken. Local rules of procedure may be adopted to allow voting by proxy.


Last Modified: January 08, 2016