Governor Inslee Alters Candidate Requirements Amid Pandemic
Posted May 12, 2020
By Washington State Business & Real Estate Law Lawyer Todd J. Cook
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact almost every facet of daily life in the United States, politicians on the national stage have debated the pros and cons of expanding mail-based voting across the country. Of course, this has not been an issue in Washington, where state law guarantees that “[e]ach active registered voter of the state, overseas voter, and service voter shall automatically be issued a mail ballot for each general election, special election, or primary.” RCW 29A.40.010. But this provision alone does not insulate Washington’s elections from potential impact of the coronavirus because full and fair elections first require a ballot populated with candidates.
On May 5, 2020, Governor Inslee invoked his State of Emergency authorities under RCW 43.06.220(2)(g) to ensure that candidates seeking office in Washington state would maintain access to the ballot. Washington state’s election laws require candidates to file a declaration of candidacy and to pay a filing fee, which ranges in size based on the salary of the elected office the candidate seeks. See RCW 29A.24.091(1)-(3). However, for those candidates “who lack sufficient assets or income . . . to pay the filing fee,” the law all provides that the candidate will instead submit “a filing fee petition” along with his or her declaration of candidacy. The filing fee petition must contain a certain number of signatures of voters “registered to vote within the jurisdiction of the office for which the candidate is filing.” RCW 29A.24.091(4) (requiring “not less than a number of signatures of registered voters equal to the number of dollars of the filing fee”).
Although Washington has recently entered Phase 1 of the 4-phase “Safe Start Washington” re-opening plan (with certain less populated counties already moving to Phase 2), every county across Washington state is still subject to substantial emergency measures designed to limit or prevent “person-to-person contact” that could foster the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Under the current circumstances, Governor Inslee concluded that filing fee petition’s voter signature requirement might act as a barrier and “prevent some candidates for election in Washington State from being included on the ballot for election.” Therefore, in Proclamation 20-53, Governor Inslee suspended the statutory requirement for filing fee petitions to include the signatures of registered voters. RCW 29A.24.091(4). The suspension of the voter signature requirement means that candidates or campaign workers will not be required to engage in the sort of “person to person contact” ordinarily involved in the signature collection process.
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