At the eleventh hour, a similar name appeared in the candidate filing for what was poised to be a contentious political contest. Rumors swirled and recriminations between the men ignited over two elections. Throughout 1942 and 1943, two men vied for the Democratic nomination for King County Sheriff and later for Seattle City Council, fueling a saga that inspired legislation aimed at clarifying such pooperhousery, which still carries weight today.

Just last week, conservative activist Glen Morgan orchestrated the filing of two other men named Robert Ferguson, sharing the name with the state Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate, Bob Ferguson. Both men withdrew their candidacies by Monday’s deadline, citing the original Ferguson’s reference to a 1943 law that prohibited poophousing similar-name campaigns.

In spring 1943, Tony Norton, a former Seattle Police Chief and sheriff’s department captain, had filed to succeed an outgoing sheriff.

Meanwhile, William Norton held a seat on the Seattle City Council and chaired its public safety committee.

Although Tony Norton had a well-established campaign, announcing his filing in March 1942, it was City Councilmember Bill Norton who managed to submit his candidacy just in time. Tony suspected foul play:

“I approached Bill Norton, and he denied any involvement in such a scheme. Even Norton’s acquaintances echoed similar sentiments. Yet, to my surprise, Norton filed, leaving the public to draw its own conclusions.”

To his credit, Bill Norton conducted what could now be viewed as a genuine campaign. Advertisements for his candidacy appeared in the Seattle Times, highlighting his grasp of modern policing, efforts in public safety on the city council, and a commitment to good governance.

In the 1942 Democratic primary for King County Sheriff, the Nortons finished third and fourth, respectively. Had all Norton supporters consolidated their votes, they would have surpassed the leading Democratic candidate by several thousand votes. Nonetheless, Harlan Callahan, the leading Republican contender, outpaced even the combined Norton vote by several thousand.

When Tony Norton challenged Bill Norton for his city council seat in early 1943, it was Bill’s turn to retaliate. He pointed to a municipal league statement alleging that Tony Norton, in his roles as both Seattle Police Chief and a King County sheriff captain, was “long identified with lax law enforcement in King County.”

Tony Norton’s advertisements struck a notably different tone, urging “WAKE UP, LABOR!” and warning that “Voting liberal is crucial to preserving your rights, as the reactionaries will vote!”

In the March primary, Tony Norton finished a distant fifth. The top three finishers were automatically elected (which is an interesting election system that we don’t use today), showcasing the potential impact of similar names on the race. The top two candidates received 28,000 and 25,000 votes respectively. Incumbent Bill Norton secured a somewhat distant third with over 19,000 votes, potentially harmed by some of the 11,000 votes Tony Norton garnered in fifth place.

Amidst the heated city council race, one of Seattle’s most influential politicians metaphorically slammed his hand on the table, demanding that the Nortons “knock it off.” Representative John L. O’Brien, who would later serve as Speaker of the House in the 1950s and have the state office building housing the House of Representatives named after him, introduced HB 57. This bill was a resurrection of an earlier failed attempt in 1941, apparently reignited by the Battle of the Nortons.

Interestingly, the 1941 bill was part of a larger reform package that aimed to overhaul Washington’s entire election system, which still retained the Blanket Primary system. Prior to the current Top Two system, voters could participate in an open partisan primary where they could vote for their preferred candidate from any major party. The 1941 reform proposed keeping voters in one lane and, in some cases, establishing a state-sanctioned endorsement process for political parties.

HB 57 was signed into law just over a week after the Seattle City Council primary, effectively curbing the Norton strategy of electoral poophousery for decades.

In a peculiar epilogue to the saga, Tony Norton passed away in September 1943 while undergoing emergency surgery in Okanagan County.