Sunday Nov 27, 2022

Vacancies in Local Elected Offices – MRSC


This page provides an overview of council, commission, and executive vacancies for local governments in Washington State, including resignations, unexcused absences, and other causes of vacancies; effective dates; and the process for appointing new officials to fill the remainder of the terms for the vacant offices.

This page focuses on the state laws surrounding vacancies in elected office. Some jurisdictions may have adopted local charters or policies that go beyond the minimum requirements in state law, such as establishing additional causes of vacancy or laying out more detailed procedures for filling the vacancy. Always consult your local procedures.


A local elective office – such as the office of mayor, councilmember, county elected official, or special purpose district commissioner – can become vacant for a number of reasons. The reasons for vacancy, and the process for filling them, are generally spelled out in chapter 42.12 RCW (see the “Notes” section of that chapter for additional statutory references for specific agency types).

These reasons an office may become vacant include the following (all of which are listed in RCW 42.12.010 unless otherwise noted):

  • The death of the incumbent;
  • Their resignation (discussed in more detail below);
  • Their removal;
  • Their ceasing to be a legally registered voter of the jurisdiction in which they have been elected or appointed (discussed in more detail below);
  • Their conviction of a felony or any offense involving a violation of their official oath;
  • Their refusal or neglect to take the oath of office or give/renew their official bond within the time prescribed by law;
  • The decision of a competent tribunal declaring their election or appointment void;
  • Whenever a judgment shall be obtained against the incumbent for breach of the condition of their official bond; and
  • For some jurisdictions, an excessive number of absences (discussed in more detail below). This is not contained in RCW 42.12.010 but is addressed separately in some agency statutes and/or local policies.

Sometimes the causes and effective dates of a vacancy are clear, such as the officeholder’s death. But in many other cases there can be confusion over whether the office has indeed been vacated and when.


An elected official’s resignation may be offered verbally or in writing. If the official does not specify a resignation date, then the resignation takes effect when it is delivered to the agency. The state court of appeals found that the mere announcement of a resignation meant to be effective immediately – such as a councilmember standing up and shouting “I quit!” during a council meeting – is enough to complete the resignation process (State ex rel. Munroe v. Poulsbo, 109 Wn. App. 672 (2002)).

The governing body does not have to formally accept the resignation or take any action for it to take effect. But your agency may still want to adopt a policy that says you will acknowledge a resignation in writing.

Once the specified resignation time is reached, the resignation automatically takes effect. If the official resigned effective immediately, they may not withdraw or extend the resignation because they have already vacated the office. However, if the effective date has not yet arrived and the official still holds office, they may rescind or extend the resignation.

Loss of Residency

While the technology for “connecting” from remote places has become widespread, state law still requires elected officials to reside in the jurisdiction they represent.



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