Post-Election Odds and Ends: Bonds, Oaths and Taking Office
October 29, 2017
We don’t want to rush things, ballots have been mailed and the counting has not begun. Nevertheless, it’s good to make sure you know the proper procedures after the voting results are certified. This is a revised version of a blog post from last year, adding some additional facts about filing the oaths of office.
Before a person who has been elected can actually assume office in a local government, he or she must be “qualified.” For election statutes, RCW 29A.04.133 defines the term “qualified” to mean:
- The election results have been certified;
- Any required bond has been posted; and
- The winner has taken the oath of office.
Certification of Results
When will the election results be certified? According to the Washington Secretary of State’s election website, election results will be certified by each county on November 28, 2017.
Posting a Bond
Who is required to post a bond? While official bonds are typically required only for certain appointive positions, such as a city clerk, treasurer, or police chief, RCW 36.16.050 requires that all county elected officials furnish bonds of varying amounts, conditioned upon the official faithfully performing the duties of the office and properly handling any money that may come into their hands. Other officers may also be required to post a bond, if the legislative body imposes such a requirement. If a bond is required, it must be posted for the person to be qualified. Some jurisdictions purchase blanket bonds to cover their officials.
Oath of Office
When can the oath be given? Although newly elected officials will typically begin their term of office on the first day of January following an election, under RCW 29A.60.280(3), the oath may be given up to 10 days prior to the date of assuming office or at the last regular meeting held before the person elected is to assume office. Some local governments, however, choose to have the oath given to newly-elected officers at the first meeting of the legislative body in January. If possible, I recommend that newly elected (or reelected) officials take the oath of office before January, as that will help ensure that they are legally able to govern on January 1, 2018 in the event that an emergency arises before the first meeting of the legislative body in January. Of course, this would not preclude a jurisdiction from hosting a ceremonial, swearing-in ceremony later in January.
Who may give an oath of office? Under RCW 29A.04.133(3), the oath must be given and certified by a notary public or an officer authorized to administer oaths. The list of officers with the authority to administer oaths includes, but is not limited to, every: judge, court clerk, court commissioner, county auditor or deputy auditor, the mayor or clerk of a code city or town, and the mayor of a second class city.
What is the form of oath that should be given? State law does not specify a particular oath that must be given. If a local government has not already adopted its own form of oath, the newly-elected officer can swear or affirm to an oath indicating that he or she will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office to the best of his or her ability. Here is one example of an oath that could be used:
I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Washington, and all local ordinances, and that I will faithfully and impartially perform and discharge the duties of the office of _____, according to law and the best of my ability.
Does the oath of office need to be filed somewhere? YES, oaths taken by elected officials must be filed with the county auditor. Here are some statutory references for that requirement:
- RCW 35A.12.080 – code cities
- RCW 35.27.120 - towns
- RCW 35.23.081 – second class cities
- RCW 36.16.060 – counties
** Note that RCW 42.12.010(6) provides that failure to properly take and/or file an oath or bond is a cause for vacancy in office!
Assuming the Post
When does the person actually assume office? For most newly-elected or reelected local government officers, their term begins, pursuant to RCW 29A.60.280(2), on January 1 following the general election. However, if the office is currently filled by a person who had been appointed to fill a vacancy, the newly-elected official can assume office immediately after becoming qualified, which typically occurs once the votes have been certified. For more information, see RCW 42.12.040 and 42.12.070(6).
What happens if the person who was elected fails to take office on January 1? Until the newly-elected official becomes qualified, the incumbent will continue to hold office (“holds over”). For example, RCW 35A.12.040 states that a term of office for an elected official of a code city is four years “and until their successors are elected and qualified and assume office.”
These odds and ends are important but can be confusing. If questions arise, be sure to contact your jurisdiction’s legal counsel and then ask MRSC. We've also created a series of quick guides for newly elected officials to help get them up to speed on what they need to know about being a local government leader.
If you have questions about this or any other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post or other topics you would like us to write about, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
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