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Thanks for reporting on this important issue.

Our court hearing has been scheduled for this Friday morning, July 29 in Clark County Superior Court.

Resolution 2021-1, amended the Clark County Charter in November 2021. Amended Clark County Charter Section 6.2, Sentence 1 says:

The offices of council member, assessor, auditor, clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff, and treasurer shall be non-partisan offices.

Amended Clark County Charter Section 6.2, Sentence 2:

Elections for the offices shall be conducted in the manner provided for partisan local elections under state law.

It seems that the Clark County Charter Review Commission left the Clark County Charter with an irreconcilable conundrum because treating nonpartisan races as partisan, as the revised charter indicates, directly conflicts with RCW 29A.52.220 which mandates that there is no primary for nonpartisan elections when there are two or fewer candidates.

The title of RCW 29A.52.220(1), which couldn’t be any clearer, is “No Non-Partisan Office Primary Permitted”, and states:

(1) No primary may be held for any single position in any nonpartisan office if, after the last day allowed for candidates to withdraw, there are no more than two candidates filed for the Position.

The statute is clear and does not delegate any discretionary authority to counties throughout Washington State, including Clark County, to conduct non-partisan races “in the manner provided for partisan local elections under state law,” as the second sentence in the Clark County Charter 6.2 suggests.

When the Clark County Charter re-designated these offices as “non-partisan” in the first sentence of Section 6.2, it lost the authority to treat them as “partisan” under local election law despite what the second sentence in Section 6.2 says. So, regardless of what the Clark County Charter Review Committee thought or intended, RCW 29A.52.112 (partisan office election rules) simply does not apply anymore to those races.

In fact, Washington State case law can’t be any clearer about that, frankly.

A county charter conflicts with a state statute when it permits what is forbidden by state law or prohibits what state law permits. Davis v. Taylor, Washington Court of Appeals case in 2006.

State law preempts a local charter when that charter permits what state law forbids. Lawson v. City of Pasco, a Washington State Supreme Court case in 2010.

The disappointing part of all this mess is that it could have all been avoided. But, it seems, the Clark County Charter Review Committee tried to “split the baby” in its proposed amendments that went to voters – calling these offices non-partisan, but running them for election as partisan offices. A reasonable person might think the Charter doesn't have the flexibility or latitude to directly conflict with state statutes.

From: Lawsuit filed against Clark County auditor over primary ballot inclusions

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