BALLOTS CONFLICTING INITIATIVE MEASURES
Two initiatives separately proposed but containing conflicting subject matter must be submitted to the voters as independent propositions.
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October 27, 1950
Honorable Earl Coe
Secretary of State
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 49-51 No. 377
Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of October 17, in which you ask our opinion as to the correct method of arranging Initiative 176 and Initiative 178 on the ballot at the general election. We quote the following from your letter:
"Is my office correct in the following assumption?
"That the provision of paragraph (a) of the 7th Amendment to the State Constitution relating to conflicting initiative measures and their presentation upon the ballot refers solely to initiatives to the legislature and alternative measures that may be submitted on the same subject by the legislature to the people. This assumption being based upon the executing statutes of the above provisions namely: RRS 5420 and 5421."
It is our conclusion that your assumption is correct. The provision in paragraph (a) of the 7th Amendment to the State Constitution providing for alternative ballot propositions in the case of conflicting initiative measures refers only to initiatives to the legislature and alternative measures submitted by the legislature, and is not applicable in the case of initiative measures numbers 176 and 178.
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
Initiative measures numbers 176 and 178 deal with the subject of public assistance but in such different manners that they are conflicting in many respects. Neither has been proposed as an initiative to the legislature, but each has received a sufficient number of signatures to entitle it to a place upon the ballot in the November 1950 general election. These measures have been proposed independently by different sponsors and neither is drafted with reference to the other. Amendment seven to the State Constitution in subdivision (a) provides in part:
"* * * Initiative petitions shall be filed with the secretary of state not less than four months before the election at which they are to be voted upon, or not less than ten days before any regular session of the legislature. If filed at least four months before the election at which they are to be voted upon, he shall submit the same to the vote of the people at the said election. If such petitions are filed not less than ten days before any regular session of the legislature, he shall transmit the same to the legislature as soon as it convenes and organizes. Such initiative measure shall take precedence over all other measures in the legislature except appropriation bills and shall be either enacted or rejected without change or amendment by the legislature before the end of such regular session. If any such initiative measure shall be enacted by the legislature it shall be subject to the referendum petition, or it may be enacted and referred by the legislature to the people for approval or rejection at the next regular election. If it is rejected or if no action is taken upon it by the legislature before the end of such regular session, the secretary of state shall submit it to the people for approval or rejection at the next ensuing regular general election. The legislature may reject any measure so proposed by initiative [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] petition and propose a different one dealing with the same subject, and in such event both measures shall be submitted by the secretary of state to the people for approval or rejection at the next ensuing regular general election. When conflicting measures are submitted to the people the ballots shall be so printed that a voter can express separately by making one cross (X) for each, two preferences, first, as between either measure and neither, and secondly, as between one and the other. If the majority of those voting on the first issue is for neither, both fail, but in that case the votes on the second issue shall nevertheless be carefully counted and made public. If a majority voting on the first issue is for either, then the measure receiving a majority of the votes on the second issue shall be law."
The legislature has passed statutes implementing the initiative provisions of the State Constitution and has indicated its construction of the section just quoted by providing separately for initiatives to the legislature and initiatives for submission to the people. The construction which the legislature has placed upon that provision of the constitution relative to conflicting measures has made it applicable only to initiatives to the legislature. Our Supreme Court has held that the construction placed upon a constitutional provision by the legislature is entitled to great weight in determining the meaning of the Constitution. State ex rel. Todd v. Yelle, 7 Wn. (2d) 443, 110 P. (2d) 162; State ex rel. Christensen v. Hinkle, 169 Wash. 1, 13 P. (2d) 42. Sections 24 and 25 of chapter 138 of the Laws of 1913 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 5420 and 5421) read as follows:
"Except as in the next succeeding section provided, each measure submitted to the people for approval or rejection shall be so printed on the ballot, under the proper heading, that a voter can by making one cross (X) express his approval or rejection of such measure. Substantially the following form shall be a compliance with this section:
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
"PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION
"Initiative Measure No. 22, entitled (here insert the ballot title of the measure).
FOR Initiative Measure No. 22 ................................ [ ]
AGAINST Initiative Measure No. 22 .................... [ ]
"In all cases where initiative measures proposed to the legislature have been rejected by the legislature and alternative measures passed by the legislature in lieu thereof the serial numbers and ballot titles of both such measures shall be so printed on the official ballots that a voter can express separately by making one cross (X) for each, two preferences; first, as between either measure and neither, and secondly, as between one and the other, as provided in the Constitution. Substantially the following form shall be a compliance with the constitutional provision:
"INITIATED BY PETITION AND ALTERNATIVE BY LEGISLATURE
"Initiative Measure No. 25, entitled (here insert the ballot title of the initiative measure).
Alternative Measure No. 25B, entitled (here insert the ballot title of the alternative measure).
"VOTE FOR EITHER, OR AGAINST BOTH
"FOR EITHER Initiative No. 25 or Alternative
No. 25B [ ]
AGAINST Initiative No. 25 AND Alternative
No. 25B [ ]
[[Orig. Op. Page 5]] and vote FOR one.
FOR Initiative Measure No. 25[ ]
FOR Alternative Measure No. 25B [ ]"
It will be noted that the legislature prescribed the alternative ballot only in cases of initiatives to the legislature which had been rejected, and an alternative measure presented.
The ballot form prescribed by the legislature for measures other than those resulting from initiatives to the legislature is for an independent vote for or against each measure. This construction by the legislature, we believe, should be followed as a guide to the meaning of the constitution. Initiative measures 176 and 178 are separately proposed and may be separately voted upon, and there is no authority under the constitution to combine or relate the propositions upon the ballot.
Very truly yours,
LYLE L. IVERSEN
Assistant Attorney General