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Elections in Special Purpose Districts

This webpage provides basic statutes relating to special purpose district elections in Washington State.

It is part of MRSC's series on Special Purpose Districts.

General Elections and Special Elections

Procedures for general and special elections are found at RCW 29A.04.330

General Elections

All district general elections are held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the odd-numbered years, except:

  • Public utility districts, conservation districts, or district elections at which the ownership of property within those districts is a prerequisite to voting. These elections are held at the times prescribed in the laws specifically relating to those districts. Property ownership requirements as a prerequisite to voting include diking districts; drainage districts; diking, drainage, and/or sewerage improvement districts; intercounty diking and drainage districts; consolidated diking districts, drainage districts, diking improvement districts, and/or drainage improvement districts; and flood control districts (See RCW 85.38.010 for definition of elector).
  • Special flood control districts consisting of three or more counties.
  • Other exceptions to the November general election date are recall, consolidation, nonhigh school district capital fund proposals provided in Ch. 28A.540 RCW, and special elections.
  • See statutes for election procedures and other exceptions (RCW 29A.04.330).

Special Elections

A "special election" is any election that is not a general election and may be held in conjunction with a general election or primary (RCW 29A.04.175). The governing body must present a resolution to the county auditor prior to the proposed election date requesting a special election.

A special election shall be held on one of the following dates as decided by the governing body: the second Tuesday in February; the fourth Tuesday in April; the day of the primary election as specified by RCW 29A.04.311; or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (See RCW 29A.04.330)

Election Costs

The costs of elections are borne by the constituencies. A district is liable for its proportionate share of the costs when such elections are held in conjunction with other elections held under RCW 29A.04.321 and 29A.04.330. If the district holds any primary or election, general or special, on an isolated date, all costs of such elections must be borne by the district concerned (RCW 29A.04.410). See reference notes on provision for links to certain special districts that have provisions on responsibility for payment of costs to create a district. Specific cost allocations are delineated in the BARS Manual section 3.8.12 on Voter Registration and Election Cost Allocation (see Cash Basis Manual and GAAP Manual).

Elective Offices

Nonpartisan Elective Offices

All city, town, and special purpose district elective offices shall be nonpartisan (RCW 29A.52.231)

Local Primary Elections

All primary elections for special purpose districts, except those districts that require ownership of property within the district as a prerequisite to voting, are nonpartisan (RCW 29A.52.210). No primary is held for the office of commissioner of a park and recreation district or for the office of cemetery district commissioner (RCW 29A.52.220).

Term of Office and Commencement of Term

The term of office for special district board members range from two to six years. See statutes for each district.

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 incumbents ends and the term of successors begins after the successor is elected and qualified, and the term commences immediately after December 31st following the election. See exceptions 2(a) and 2(b) and provisions for oath of office (RCW 29A.60.280)

Ballot Measures

The format of the ballot measures is governed by provisions in Ch. 29A.36 RCW. The required content of ballot measures are found both in Title 29A and in the statutes relating to the type of district or funding measure. For special districts, the concise ballot measure statement is prepared by the prosecuting attorney of the county within which the majority area of the unit is located (29A.36.071 RCW).

Measures for Forming Special Purpose Districts

For special purpose districts formed by election, procedures for forming the district are listed in the statutes governing the district. Some statutes provide a description of ballot contents, others provide specific wording.

Revenue Ballot Measures

Ballot forms are set out in the RCW, for example: RCW 29A.36.210 - Property tax levies — Ballot form. The Department of Revenue guide cited below provides sample ballots for the various type of revenue measures.

Ballot Measure Requirements, Department of Revenue - This guide explains the requirements taxing districts must follow to create ballot measures for levies seeking voter approval. For non-voted levies and benefit assessments, see DOR's Levy Manual, also known as the Property Tax Levies Operations Manual.

Researching Local Ballot Measures

MRSC has been tracking local ballot measure results, including special purpose districts, since November 2011. To research results, see our Local Ballot Measure Database. You can filter the results by type of district, type of measure, statutory authority, county, and how recent the election was, or you can do a keyword search.

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: January 20, 2023