Rep. Matt Manweller’s announcement that he will leave the legislature – following tremendous reporting from Austin Jenkins at NPR – sets in motion an arcane but important and often used process.
Should Manweller retain his seat in this year’s election, and then resign as he announced he would, the post-election vacancy will be filled by appointment. Here’s how that process would work.
First, a bit of detail. Precinct committee officers (PCOs) are the most locally elected officials in Washington State. They are elected to represent a given neighborhood to their party. In that regard, under state law, a PCO is both a public elected official and a local party official.
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PCOs are often the most committed party loyalists that you might meet. They are deeply “blue” or “red” and aren’t typically a centrist-type. They stand for election every two years, and are elected during the primary election in even years. In races for a PCO spot that is uncontested, candidates that register to be a PCO by the May filing deadline automatically become victors and earn the PCO position.
All PCOs are seated December 1st, regardless of whether they win a contetsted primary or win by acclimation.
When a legislative seat becomes vacant, the appointment process begins with PCOs.
If a Republican vacates the seat, as Manweller will, then the Republican PCOs will gather hear from Republican candidates interested in an appointment to the seat. The same is true if a Democrat vacates a seat – that Democratic PCOs will meet under similar terms.
The PCOs will then vote, ordering their recommended candidates in rank order from 1 to 3. These top three recommended candidates will then be interviewed by county leadership. The elected legislators of a given county where the legislative district aligns shall meet to interview the candidates. In an urban county with a dense population, it’s possible that only one set of county leaders will meet. This is often the case in King County where the County Council interviews and votes on appointments for districts that are wholly in the county.
In more rural districts, like the 13th LD, a district can cross into multiple counties. The 13th LD includes parts of Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln and Yakima Counties.
The PCOs will submit their ranked list to a committee of the whole, consisting of each of the duly elected county legislators from each of the counties represented in the legislative district.
When I refer to the “elected county legislators” I mean either the county council or the county commissioners, depending on the county’s organization.
In the 13th LD, each of the four counties are commission counties. So, each of the four counties will have all three of their commissioners represented in the interview process.
After interviews, the committee of all (in this case) 12 commissioners will vote. The ranked order of the PCO recommended list has no bearing on the vote by the elected county leaders, other than as a transmittal of the intent of the PCOs as party representatives.
Once the county leaders select a successor to fill the vacancy, the person is usually sworn in on the spot with all of the rights, duties and responsibilities that go with the office.
The person, now legislator, will need to stand for election which typically occurs at the next November election.
So, in the case of the 13th LD, that will mean a special election will be held there in November, 2019.