Laws governing local ballot measures in Washington
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Washington. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Types of local government
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments shows that, as of September of 2012, local government in Washington consists of:
320 General Purpose units, including:
- 39 Counties
- 281 Cities and towns
1,511 Special Purpose units, including:
- 1,216 Special Districts
- 295 Independent School Districts
Counties may be:
- General law: of which there are 33
- Home rule charter: of which there are 6 - Clallam (1979), King (1969), Pierce (1981), Snohomish (1980), Whatcom (1979) and
San Juan (2005)
Cities and towns are classified as:
- First class—10,000 inhabitants or more and a home-rule charter, of which there are 10 (Aberdeen, Bellingham, Bremerton, Everett, Richland, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, and Yakima)
- Second class—1,500 or more inhabitants and no home-rule charter, of which there are 9 (Chewelah, Colfax, Colville, Davenport, Palouse, Port Orchard, Ritzville, Tekoa, and Wapato)
- Towns—Fewer than 1,500 inhabitants and no home-rule charter, of which there are 70
- Code Cities- Although a city must have a population of 10,000 to adopt a home rule charter, any city or town may acquire statutory home rule power by adopting the optional municipal code. There are 191 code cities, comprised of 190 noncharter code cities and 1 charter code city (Kelso)
- There is also one unclassified city, Waitsburg, which operates under a territorial charter
Washington, along with ten other states, possesses a State Constitution that establishes a limit to the amount of debt that may be incurred. Washington mandates that school districts must obtain voter approval to bring in more than one percent for general debt or five percent for capital outlays. Washington State requires a election for all bond issues exceeding three-eights of one percent of taxable property. The state's bond issue laws treat school districts and other forms of municipal government identically and therefore requires a 3/5ths (60%) super-majority and a 40% voter turnout for approval. Bond issues can be used for capital improvements and new construction only. School districts cannot use bonds to retire debt or fund other obligations.
Other taxing districts
The Washington Constitution requires a 3/5ths (60%) majority vote to authorize bonds and tax levies requiring voter approval in any taxing district other than school districts. This includes municipalities, fire districts, counties and any other political subdivision. In school districts, tax levy measures can be approved by a simple majority with no minimum voter turnout requirement, but bond measures must still be approved by a 3/5ths. Moreover, the number of voters in any election requiring a 3/5ths super-majority must be at least equal to 40% of the voters in the last general election.
However, districts imposing an EMS property tax levy of not more than $0.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for six or ten continuous years need only receive a majority approval. Such a tax imposed permanently must still be approved by 3/5ths (60%) of voters with a 40% voter turnout.
Local recall rules
| Ballot Law Portal|
|Laws Governing Ballot Measures|
The citizens of Washington are granted the authority to perform a recall election by Sections 33 and 34 of Article I of the Washington State Constitution to all elective officers of the state of Washington except judges of courts of record.
A petition for recall must include a specified number of valid signatures from registered voters determined as a percentage of total votes cast for all candidates who ran for the office in the most recent election contest. This amounts to:
- 25 percent for state officers, other than judges, senators and representatives; city officers of cities of the first class; school district boards in cities of the first class; county officers in counties of the first, second and third classes,
- 35 percent for officers of all other political subdivisions, cities, towns, townships, precincts, and school districts not otherwise mentioned; and state senators and representatives.
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Washington
Campaign finance rules
Initiative process availability
The availability of initiative varies depending on the classification, form of government, and home rule status of a town, city, or county.
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
General law counties do not currently have initiative authority, except to petition to adopt a charter. The 6 home rule charter counties do have authority, and all 6 have adopted an initiative process.
First class charter cities have a mandated initiative process for charter amendments. A first class charter city may adopt initiative for ordinances in its charter, and all 10 have done so.
Second class cities and towns do not have authority to adopt initiative.
Code cities have authority to permit initiative. If a code city exercises that authority, the initiative process is set by state statute. As of 2005, approximately 44 code cities had elected to allow initiative. There is 1 city, Shelton, which uses the commission form of government and has a mandated initiative process.
The following code cities permit initiative:
- Battle Ground, Bellevue, Blaine, Bonney Lake, Bothell, Brier, Burien, Camas, Chelan, Cheney, Des Moines,Edgewood, Edmonds, Ellensburg, Federal Way, Goldendale, Issaquah, Kelso, Kent, Lake Forest Park, Longview, Lynnwood, Mercer Island, Mill Creek, Monroe, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, North Bend, Ocean Shores, Olympia, Rainier, Raymond, Redmond, Renton, Ridgefield, SeaTac, Sequim, Shoreline, Shelton, Tukwila, Tumwater, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Woodinville.  
- No explicit provision for local initiative.
- RCW 35.22.120 First class charter city mandated initiative for charter amendments
- RCW 35.22.200 First class charter city authority to adopt initiative for ordinances
- RCW 35A.11.080 Noncharter code city authority to adopt initiative for ordinances
- RCW 35A.11.100 Noncharter code city process requirements if adopt initiative
- RCW 35A.09.020 Charter code city (Kelso is the only one) mandated initiative for charter amendments
- RCW 35A.29.170, 35A.01.040 All code cities petition requirements
- RCW 35.17.220 - 35.17.360 Commission city (Shelton is the only one) mandated initiative
See law: Wash. Rev. Code Title 35 and 35A
Initiative process features
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
Initiative in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Washington|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
|Bellevue||124,798||General law, Optional Code|
|Kent||120,916||General law, Optional Code|
|Renton||92,812||General law, Optional Code|
|Federal Way||91,085||General law, Optional Code|
Initiative is available in the top 10 most populated cities in Washington. 6 are first class charter cities that have authorized initiative for ordinances by charter. The other 4 are code cities which have opted to permit the initiative process as provided by statute.
- ↑ The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, County Form of Government
- ↑ Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, Classification of Washington Cities
- ↑ U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 Governments Integrated Directory, Individual State Descriptions
- ↑ Washington Constitution, See Article VII, section 2(a)
- ↑ RCW 84.52.069
- ↑ RCW 52.18.050
- ↑ Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, Initiative and Referendum Guide for Washington City and Charter Counties
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local governments by state
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 11.9 US Census, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Washington: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011
- Ballotpedia: Research document of Washington local I&R laws
- Association of Washington Cities
- Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington