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Election Deadlines and COVID-19


May 4, 2020 by Jill Dvorkin
Category: Elections , COVID-19

Election Deadlines and COVID-19

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic impacting nearly every aspect of daily life for Washingtonians, certain statutory deadlines remain unaffected by state and local emergency orders. Indeed, filing week for declaring candidacy for local and state elected offices is just around the corner, and local governments should be deciding now whether they intend to propose any local ballot measures for the August primaries.

Filing for Candidacy: May 11-15

State law provides very specific direction for when and how a person files a declaration of candidacy. RCW 29A.24.050 states:

(D)eclarations of candidacy…shall be filed during regular business hours with the filing officer beginning the Monday two weeks before Memorial day and ending the following Friday in the year in which the office is scheduled to be voted upon

This year, those filing dates are May 11-15. Thankfully, state law allows for electronic filing of declarations of candidacy if certain systems are in place, as well as the opportunity to file by mail. See RCW 29A.24.050 and RCW 29A.24.081. Electronic filing must be limited to between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM, May 11-15, and the electronic form must include a place to capture the information as specified in RCW 29A.24.031. Mail-in declarations of candidacy may be accepted by the filing officer as early as April 27.

MRSC's Research Librarian Gabrielle Nicas surveyed the auditor websites for all the county election departments and determined the vast majority are set up to file declarations of candidacy online. Most use a common platform, which is currently not “live” because it is not yet filing week.

Below are examples of how some counties and the Office of the Secretary of State are moving forward with filing week in light of the COVID-19 emergency:

  • Pierce County is requiring that a declaration of candidacy be filed online; however, it is also providing computer kiosks at its election office (see p. 5 of the county's 2020 Election Guide for Candidates).
  • Lewis County is strongly urging online filing, but also indicates it will make computer kiosks available.
  • Whatcom County is strongly encouraging candidates to file online.
  • The Office of the Secretary of State is urging Online Candidate Filing for state and federal offices; however, they will also have an option to allow mail-in or in-person physical filing. The in-person filing will be limited to one location.

It is not clear whether the law requires a physical location in addition to electronic and mail-in filing options under these unusual circumstances. Local officials will want to discuss this issue with their legal counsel, keeping in mind state law requirements and any local emergency orders and closures that are in place. Under the governor’s Stay Home - Stay Healthy Proclamation 20-25, essential services (such as local government services) may continue if proper social distancing and safety precautions are in place. See Essential Services and Workers During the COVID-19 Emergency.

A note on filing fees (updated May 6)

RCW 29A.24.091 sets forth filing fees for declaring candidacy for different offices. If a person cannot pay a filing fee, state law provides an option to submit a petition containing the number of signatures that is equivalent to the dollar amount of the filing fee. Normally, the specific language is as follows:

‚ÄčThe petition shall contain not less than a number of signatures of registered voters equal to the number of dollars of the filing fee. The signatures shall be of voters registered to vote within the jurisdiction of the office for which the candidate is filing.

On May 5, the governor signed Proclamation 20-53, which waives and suspends, through June 4, the requirement that the filing fee petition contain signatures of registered voters. So the requirement at RCW 29A.24.091(4) now temporarily reads:

A candidate who lacks sufficient assets or income at the time of filing to pay the filing fee required by this section shall submit with his or her declaration of candidacy a filing fee petition.

Passing Resolutions for Local Ballot Measures: May 8

If a local government or special purpose district is seeking a special election to place a ballot measure before voters, the deadline to initiate that process is May 8 for the next election — which is the August primaries. RCW 29A.04.330(3) provides, in relevant part:

A resolution calling for a special election [for the August primaries] must be presented to the county auditor no later than the Friday immediately before the first day of regular candidate filing

MRSC consultants have been asked whether an agenda item considering adoption of a resolution for a ballot measure would be considered “necessary and routine” under the governor’s Proclamation 20-28 (issued March 24) and Proclamation 20-28.1 (extending the original proclamation until May 4). These proclamations prohibit in-person meetings under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and limit matters that may be considered at meetings to those that are “necessary and routine.” We’ve referred inquirers to the Washington Attorney General’s Office guidance regarding what is “necessary and routine,” but also suggested the determination must be made by local officials who will be in the best position to know what is necessary and routine for their agencies. While these proclamations are set to expire on May 4, they may be extended.

Editor's note: After this post was published, the OPMA provisions of Proclamation 20-28 were extended through May 31 by the state legislative leadership and Proclamation 20-28.2.

Here are some examples of resolutions calling for special elections from our sample document database, and here is a link to our Local Ballot Measure Database.

Conclusion

Even during this tumultuous and uncertain time, it is important to plan for and meet election-related deadlines. For more information, see the Secretary of State’s Elections Calendar and the following additional MRSC resources:

 


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jill Dvorkin

Jill joined MRSC as a legal consultant in June 2016 after working for nine years as a civil deputy prosecuting attorney for Skagit County. At Skagit County, Jill advised the planning department on a wide variety of issues including permit processing and appeals, Growth Management Act (GMA) compliance, code enforcement, SEPA, legislative process, and public records. Jill was born and raised in Fargo, ND, then moved to Bellingham to attend college and experience a new part of the country (and mountains!). She earned a B.A. in Environmental Policy and Planning from Western Washington University and graduated with a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 2003.

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