Candidate Information Resources for Local Government Elective Offices
This page provides information and resources for individuals who are thinking of running for local elected office or applying to fill a vacancy in local elected office in Washington State.
It is part of MRSC's series on Local Elections.
New legislation: The 2023 state legislature adopted several elections-related bills, including SB 5182 moving the candidate filing period up slightly to the week beginning the first Monday in May. The new candidate filing period will take effect in 2024.
For more information, see our blog post New Election Laws Passed in 2023.
The resources gathered on this page are useful for persons who are considering filing for office, those who are candidates and have filed, and those who may be considering applying for a vacancy in an elective office.
There are a host of issues that will require your attention in the upcoming months as you begin your campaign and, if you are elected, as you prepare to assume the duties of your office. We hope you will find these resources to be helpful. Good luck in your campaign!
RCW 29A.52.231 requires all city, town, and special purpose district elective offices be nonpartisan.
For elective offices of counties, cities, towns, and special purpose districts other than school districts where the ownership of property is not a prerequisite of voting, the term of an incumbent ends December 31st following the election of a qualified successor. The term for the successor begins December 31st following the election in which they were elected. See exceptions 2(a) and 2(b) and provisions for oath of office in RCW 29A.60.280.
General Qualifications for Office
For a detailed discussion of qualifications for office for each type of jurisdiction, see our Getting Into Office publication, which covers general qualifications as well as common disqualifying factors such as incompatible offices, felony convictions, or candidate conflicts of interest.
Becoming a Candidate
In order to become a candidate, an individual can do any of the following:
- accept a contribution or spend money for their campaign;
- reserve space or purchase advertising to promote their candidacy;
- authorize another person to do any of these activities for them;
- state publicly that they are seeking office; or
- file a declaration of candidacy.
Within two weeks of the date an individual becomes a candidate, they may be required to file a Personal Financial Affairs Statement and a Candidate Registration with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). The personal financial affairs statement is meant to disclose potential conflicts of interest. All forms must be filed online once the candidate has established a Secure Access Washington (SAW) account.
See our Local Elections Administration webpage for information on the primary and special elections processes.
The Secretary of State (SOS) and the PDC websites offer information on elections and voting, various forms, compliance manuals, and other resources for candidates. See links compiled below.
- Secretary of State
- County Elections Departments in Washington State — Offers links to county auditor election division websites.
- Elections and Voting — Covers election-related topics, including the election calendar, election laws, filing fees, and procedures.
- Elections Calendar — Offers a month-by-month look at election-related deadlines.
- Public Disclosure Commission
- Candidate FAQ — Offers answers to frequently asked questions from new candidates.
Below are MRSC webpages, publications, and other materials that may be of interest to candidates:
- Blogs on elections-related topics as written by MRSC staff and/or guest authors.
- Getting into Office: Being Elected or Appointed into Office in Washington Counties, Cities, Towns, and Special Districts (2020).
- Use of Public Facilities in Election Campaigns — Offers an overview of the state law prohibiting the use of public facilities to support or oppose a ballot measure or an election campaign for public office by any local government official or employee.
Specific to city and town elected officials and candidates, the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) offers:
- So You Want to Be an Elected Official - Practical information for people running for office in Washington's cities and towns (2017) — Provides general information about what cities do, elected official roles and responsibilities, how to work as part of a team, and where to go for more information.
Some basic tools have been assembled to familiarize candidates with resources available on the functioning of local government.
Legal Framework Statutes
These are the basic laws that govern the various forms of government in Washington State.
- Title 35A RCW — Applicable to optional municipal code cities
- Ch. 35.27 RCW — Applicable to towns
- Ch. 35.23 RCW — Applicable to second class cities
- Ch. 35.22 RCW — Applicable to first class cities
- Title 36 RCW — Applicable to counties
There is no single statute covering special purpose districts. For links to statutes related to special purpose districts, see Types of Special Purpose Districts in Washington State.
Where to Find Local Government Regulations
Legislation for cities, towns, and counties is generally accomplished in the form of ordinances and resolutions. Some special purpose districts only use resolutions. Note that, depending on the subject, state law may specify whether an ordinance or resolution should be used for certain local laws. Some special purpose districts only use resolutions.
Many jurisdictions post ordinances and resolutions on their websites. A number of local governments have codified their local laws into code books, and MRSC maintains two webpages that link to individuals code books:
- Washington City Codes — Codified ordinances adopted by Washington cities and town legislative bodies; not all jurisdictions have code books.
- Washington County Codes — Codified ordinances and resolutions adopted by Washington county legislative bodies.
Quick Reference Guides from MRSC
The guides below cover some basic concepts local government officials should know, such as appearance of fairness, open government, public records, and other legal information.
- Knowing the Territory - Basic Legal Guidelines for Washington City, County, and Special District Officials (2022) — Describes the nature, powers, and duties of local government officials for "keeping out of trouble" and discusses limitations, regulations, and admonitions regarding the exercise of governmental powers, including conflicts of interest law, the open public meetings act, appearance of fairness doctrine and similar laws. Includes immunities and protections.
- Open Public Meetings Act: How it Applies to Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts (2023) — Covers who is subject to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), procedural requirements, executive sessions, exemptions, and penalties, and identifies relevant case law and attorney general opinions.
- Public Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts (Updated 2019) — Provides a basic outline of the Public Records Act (PRA) and the procedures to follow when responding to records requests.
General Resources for Candidates and Elected Officials
The handbooks listed below are for elected officials and candidates for office.
For cities and towns:
- Small City Resource Manual (2020) — Provides a brief overview of key topics, outlining the most important considerations, as well as comprehensive resources. Can be used to orient new elected officials or staff, or as a reference when questions arise.
- Cities 101 Videos — Provides brief overviews of selected local government topics, including sewers, revenues and expenses, population growth, transportation, and property taxes.
- AWC and MRSC: Mayor and Councilmember Handbook (Updated 2021) — Covers everything from presiding over meetings, resolving/preventing conflict, budget basics, statutes, parliamentary procedures, roles and responsibilities, open public meetings act, appearance of fairness, and citizen participation.
- MRSC: Code City Handbook (2009) — Provides essential information for code city officials on their powers, duties, and alternatives that are available under the applicable forms of municipal government.
- MRSC: County Commissioner Guide (2015) — Provides a brief introduction and overview of county government and discusses the role of the county commissioners and county councilmembers within the county framework. It also covers key legal doctrines such as the PRA and the OPMA.
- Washington Association of County Officials: Washington County Government — Provides an overview of certain elected county positions, including roles and responsibilities, and how these positions interact with other county staff.
- Washington State Association of Counties: Counties 101 — Provides an overview of county government with a focus on county-specific duties such as elections, roads, and law enforcement.
For hospital districts:
- Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts: Commissioner Resources — Describes the duties and responsibilities of public hospital commissioners and provides a general overview of public hospital district law with links to additional resources.
It is essential for effective local government that elected officials understand the roles of their respective offices and their interrelationships with other officials and staff. Below are several resources that clarify these important issues.
For cities and towns:
- AWC: The Ten Commandments of Community Leadership (2007)
- MRSC and AWC: Mayor and Councilmember Handbook (2021) — See sections on mayor's leadership role, job of the councilmember, and resolving and preventing mayor-council conflict.
- MRSC: Quick Guide for Newly Elected City Officials
- MRSC: Quick Guide for Newly Elected County Officials
- MRSC: Your Responsibilities as a County Commissioner
One of your primary responsibilities as an elected official will be to discuss, develop, and adopt local laws and policies by drafting and adopting ordinances and resolutions through your a governing body. Some local ordinances, however, are adopted or reviewed directly by the public through the initiative and referendum process. Resources from MRSC can help to clarify these processes:
- Initiative and Referendum Powers of Cities and Towns — Reviews the powers of initiative and referendum as they are exercised in cities in the state of Washington. It includes information on how to adopt these powers and which types of municipal activities are subject to these powers.
- Local Ordinances for Washington Cities and Counties — Developed to assist Washington county, city, and town officials in the drafting and adoption of ordinances, resolutions, motions, and related devices.
Openness and accountability are critical to the health of our democratic system of government. MRSC offers several resources dealing with the OPMA and PRA disclosure laws and offers strategies for connecting residents with their local governments.
- Community Engagement Resources — Highlights a variety of approaches for obtaining public feedback and for involving citizens in shaping local government plans and programs.
- Open Public Meetings Act: How it Applies to Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts (2023) — Covers who is subject to the OPMA, procedural requirements, executive sessions, exemptions, and penalties, and identifies relevant case law and attorney general opinions.
- PRA and OPMA E-Learning Courses — MRSC, in partnership with AWC, offers two free e-learning courses for city and town councilmembers and mayors, one dealing with the PRA and the other with the OPMA.
- Public Records Act for Washington Cities and Counties (Updated 2019) — Discusses the statutory disclosure exemptions relevant to cities and counties in Washington, as well as the mandatory procedures for responding to public disclosure requests.
Paying for government is always a challenging issue. The resources below are intended to help local government staff and elected officials understand the budgeting process.
For cities and towns:
- AWC and Washington Finance Officers Association: Budgeting for Cities and Towns in Washington State (2002) — Offers an overview on the budget-making process for policy makers, chief appointed officials, and others involved in the process.
- MRSC: Revenue Guide for Washington Cities and Towns (Updated 2022) — Contains up-to-date information on revenue sources available to cities and towns for general government purposes, including the relevant statutory references and important court decisions.
- MRSC: Revenue Guide for Washington Counties (Updated 2022) — Intended primarily to assist county policymakers and administrators in understanding the array of revenue sources available for the various programs and services they provide.
General resources from MRSC:
- Budgeting in Washington State — Offers an overview of all MRSC's resources related to budgeting, including our popular annual Budget Suggestions publication.
- Finance — Offers an overview of all MRSC's webpages related to local government finance.
- AWC: Elected Officials Essentials Workshop — See the calendar for up-to-date information on AWC's schedule for training workshops.
- On-Demand Webinars — Purchase recordings of prior webinars hosted by MRSC on a variety of subjects of interest to local governments.
- Upcoming Training — Find upcoming relevant and timely online training on issues of interest to local governments, such as ethics, governance, purchasing and contracting, finance, and more.
- WSAC/WACO: Newly-Elected Officials Conference — See the calendar for up-to-date information on training targeting county leaders.