Sarah Panis
Indiana Statehouse by Jon Goldstein

Local and state governments are often overlooked in favor of the federal government. Everyone cares about the presidential elections, but when was the last time you heard someone talk about a local election? State and local governments have different workings and powers than the federal government and are often forgotten about or just not understood. That’s why today’s blog post is devoted to explaining the workings of state and local governments.

State Governments

State governments are modeled after the federal government. Each state has its own executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. State executive branches are led by governors, but other than that, state governments are mostly similar to the federal government. State governments have authority over anything that’s not specifically given to the federal government. This means that state governments are responsible for education, managing industry, setting up local governments, and more within their state.

County Governments

Most states are split into counties (or boroughs and parishes in Alaska and Louisiana, respectively). Counties are governed by a variety of different systems, but the commission system is the most prevalent. In the commission system, the county is governed by an elected commission that makes budgets and hires and fires county employees, such as the sheriff and coroner. Some counties elect an executive who leads the commission and can veto any decisions made by the commission’s other members.

Municipal Governments

Municipal governments are the governing bodies of cities, towns, villages, boroughs, and townships. They’re usually governed by a council and a mayor who presides over the council. Municipal governments are in charge of their city/town’s public services (such as trash collection, law enforcement, and more) and city facilities. Municipal governments manage their city budgets, which are mainly paid for by tax money and make local laws that greatly affect the lives of local residents.

Why care?

The reasons why you should care about local politics are well described in our earlier blog post Why We Should Care More About Local Politics, but to summarize, local politics have the largest effect on individual voters and individual voters have the largest effect on local politics. Unlike federal politics, which can often make you feel like you have no impact on your country, local politics allow you to change your community for the better.

If you want to know about your local politicians, check out the My Representatives search tool on Voterly.


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