State and Local Governments

Local governments are often organized into the following types:

  • Counties. Counties are usually the largest political subdivisions, and their main function is to administer state laws within their borders. Among other duties, they keep the peace, maintain jails, collect taxes, build and repair roads and bridges, and record deeds, marriages, and deaths. Elected officials called Supervisors or Commissioners usually lead counties.
  • Townships. These units of government exist in about half the states, and they have differing responsibilities. A township may simply be another name for a town or city, or it may be a subdivision of a county.
  • Special Districts. These units of government have special functions. The best-known example is the local school district, but other types are growing in numbers, especially in heavily populated areas where county and city governments may be overloaded with work.
  • Municipalities. City, town, or borough governments get their authority from the state. Today about 80% of the American population lives in municipalities, and municipal governments affect the lives of many citizens. Municipalities may have elected mayors, or they may be managed by appointed city managers.

The organization of state and local governments varies widely across the United States. They have common specific features, but their organizations differ. State and local governments often have a greater impact on people's lives than the federal government. Examples: marriage, birth, and death certificates; school policies; driving age and qualifications for licensure; laws regarding theft, rape, and murder, and protecting citizens from criminals. These critical issues by state and local officials.

Source: State and Local Governments
Copyright ©2008-2021 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.

Back to top