This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.
FIRE DISTRICTS -- Elections (signing multiple nominating petitions)
ELECTIONS -- Fire Districts (signing multiple nominating petitions)
PUBLIC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES -- Mode of Selection (signing multiple nominating petitions for fire district office)
ELECTION LAW, §6-138; TOWN LAW, §176(7): A qualified voter is not prohibited from signing nominating petitions for two or more candidates for the same fire district office unless the board of fire commissioners imposes such a prohibition.
You ask whether a qualified voter may sign nominating petitions for different candidates for the same fire district office.
The nomination of candidates for fire district office is governed by subdivision 7 of section 176 of the Town Law which states that the board of fire commissioners:
Shall require that candidates for district offices file their names with the secretary of the fire district at least ten days prior to the date of such fire district elections and in addition may provide by resolution that such nominations be submitted in petition form subscribed by twenty-five qualified voters of the district. Thereafter the ballots prepared for the election of fire district officers shall specify the names of the candidates duly filed and in addition provide proper blank spaces for each office to be filled at such election. If any such resolution shall be adopted, the requirements thereof shall be specified in the notice of each fire district election held thereafter. The board of fire commissioners may rescind such resolution at any time and thereafter fire district officers shall be elected as otherwise provided herein.
Thus, the board of fire commissioners of a fire district must require candidates for district offices to file their names with the secretary of the fire district at least ten days before the date of the fire district election. In addition, however, the board of fire commissioners by resolution may require that nominations for district offices be submitted in petition form subscribed by 25 qualified voters of the district and, if such a resolution is adopted, the requirements of the resolution must be specified in the notice of each fire district election held thereafter. No other limitations or qualifications are imposed upon such nominating petitions by section 176 or any other provision of the Town Law.
Since Town Law, §176(7) empowers the board of fire commissioners to impose "requirements" on nominating petitions for fire district office but is silent as to the nature of these requirements, we believe that they could include, among other things, a prohibition against the signing by a qualified voter of multiple petitions for candidates for the same fire district office. This type of prohibition would be consistent with the law applicable to independent nominations of individuals to federal, state, county, city, town or village offices (see Election Law, §§1-102, 6-138). In the absence of such a prohibition imposed by the board of fire commissioners, however, we are not aware of any proscription against a qualified voter signing nominating petitions for two or more candidates for the same fire district office.
We recognize that certain provisions of the Election Law could be construed in a manner which would lead to a contrary conclusion in regard to fire district elections. For example, subdivision 1 of section 6-138 of the Election Law, applicable to independent nominations for "public office", provides that the signature of a person signing the petitions of two or more candidates for the same office will not be counted in determining whether the minimum number of signatures for nomination has been attained. Subdivision 1 of section 6-138 applies to independent nominations for "public office" made by a petition containing the signature of registered voters of the "political unit" for which a nomination is made for an election for which voters are required to be registered.
Although section 6-138 might be interpreted to apply to petitions for fire district elections, it is our opinion that section 6-138, when read in context with other provisions of the Election Law, was not intended to apply to nominating petitions for fire district office. In this regard, we note that section 1-102 of the Election Law defines the scope of that Law as including nominations or elections "to any federal, state, county, city, town or village office ...." Since a fire district officer is not an officer of any of the listed entities (see Town Law, §174), the Election Law, by its own terms, does not apply to nominations or elections for fire district offices.
In reaching this conclusion, we recognize that the Attorney General, in 1969 Atty Gen [Inf Opns] 166, has concluded that, in the absence of a provision in the Town Law prohibiting the signing of multiple nominating petitions for fire district offices, the provisions of Election Law, Article 6 would apply. However, for the reasons expressed above, it is our opinion that Article 6 was not intended to apply to fire districts.
January 29, 1990
Louise R. Beale, Legal Counsel
Laurelton Fire District