- Secretary of State (U.S. state government)
Secretary of State is an official in the
state governments of 47 of the 50 states of the United States, as well as Puerto Ricoand other U.S. possessions. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, this official is called the Secretary of the Commonwealth. In the states of Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah, there is no Secretary of State; in those states many duties that a Secretary of State might normally execute fall within the domain of the Lieutenant Governor. Like the Lieutenant Governor, in most states the Secretary of State is in the line of succession to succeed the governor, usually immediately behind the Lieutenant Governor. In those states with no Lieutenant Governor, such as Arizona, [http://www.azsos.gov/info/duties.htm] , the Secretary of State is sometimes first in the line of successionin the event of a gubernatorial vacancy.
Currently, in 35 states, such as
California, Illinois, and Mississippi, the Secretary of State is elected at the general election, [http://www.njpp.org/rpt_lg.html] usually for a four-year term. In others, the Secretary of State is appointed by the governor; Florida[http://oss.dos.state.fl.us/browning-bio.cfm] , Oklahoma, and Texasare amongst the states with this practice. In three states, the Secretary of State is elected by the state legislature; the General Assembly of Tennesseemeets in joint conventionto elect the Secretary of State to a four-year term, [http://www.tennessee.gov/sos/about.htm] and the Maine Legislatureand New Hampshire General Courtalso select their Secretaries of State, but to two-year terms. [http://janus.state.me.us/legis/const/]
Most Secretaries of State or those acting in such capability (with the exception of Wisconsin and Hawaii) belong to the
National Association of Secretaries of State.
The actual duties of a state’s Secretary of State vary greatly from state to state. In most states, the Secretary of State’s office is a creation of the original draft of the state constitution. However, in many cases responsibilities have been added by
statuteor executive order.
Duties in most states
The most common, and arguably the most important, function held by Secretaries of State is to serve as the state’s chief elections official. In 38 states, ultimate responsibility for the conduct of elections, including the enforcement of qualifying rules, oversight of finance regulation, establishment of actual election-day procedures, falls on the Secretary of State. (Florida is one of the many states in which this is true, and for this reason Florida’s Secretary of State in 2000,
Katherine Harris, became one of the few people holding this position to become known outside of her own state.)
In the vast majority of states, the Secretary of State is also responsible for the administration of the
Uniform Commercial Code, an act which provides for the uniform application of business contractsand practices across the United States, including the registration of lienson personal property. Hand in hand with this duty, in most states the Secretary of State is responsible for chartering businesses (usually including partnershipsand corporations) that wish to operate within their state. Accordingly, in most states, the Secretary of State also maintains all records on business activities within the state. And in some states, the Secretary of State has actual wide-ranging regulatory authority over businesses as well.
Along with record keeping on businesses, in perhaps a majority of states, the Secretary of State’s office is the primary repository of official records. This includes in most states the official copies of state documents including the actual official copy of the state’s constitution (and in
Delaware, the state’s copy of the US Bill of Rights, [http://www.state.de.us/sos/dpa/default.shtml] ) formal copies of legislative acts enacted into law, executive orders issued by the governor, and regulations and interpretations of statutes issued by state regulatory agencies. In at least a half-dozen states, this record keeping authority extends to civil acts, such as marriages, birth certificates, and adoptionand divorcedecrees. Many states also require the Secretary of State's office to also maintain records of land transactions and ownership.
In at least 35 states, the Secretary of State is also responsible for the administration of notaries public. And almost all states also designate (almost always in the state constitution itself) that the Secretary of State shall be the “Keeper of the
Great Seal” of the state. Ostensibly this requires the Secretary of State to make decisions as to where the state seal shall be affixed, whether it be onto legislation, state contracts, et cetera.
Those states which have
Address Confidentiality Programs often place the Secretary of State in charge of administering them.
Less common duties
About a dozen states give the Secretary of State the task of issuing professional licenses. This includes doctors,
plumbers, cosmeticians, general contractors, and, in at least two states, ministers (to perform marriages). In Nevada, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, the Secretary of State must clear anyone who wishes to act as a sports agentfor a professional athlete.
In several states (including
Indiana, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and Wyoming), the Secretary of State is responsible for oversight of the securities industry.
Illinois, Maine, and Michigan, the Secretary of State is in charge of the issuance of driver's licenses.
In several states the Secretary of State is also in charge of monitoring the activities of
lobbyists. While some might regard this as a natural extension of the role as chief elections officer, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, who is "not" in charge of elections in that state, is nonetheless responsible for regulating lobbying.
In about five states, the Secretary of State is the official in charge of the official state
museum. In some of these states, and also some states without official museums, the Secretary of State is designated as the official with responsibility for maintenance of the state’s historical records.
A few states place the Secretary of State in charge of the use of public property. In most cases this means only public buildings (usually the
state capitol), but in Mississippiit also includes some lands that are legally defined as belonging to the state, such as tidelands. [ [http://www.sos.state.ms.us/PublicLands/Tidelands/] ]
Several states grant a technical statutory authority to the Secretary of State in the realm of
pardons and commutations. In most cases this is nothing more than the responsibility to affix the state sealupon the governor's proclamation. However, in Delaware[ [http://www.state.de.us/sos/pardhome.shtml] ] and Nebraska[ [http://www.pardons.state.ne.us/faq.html] ] , the Secretary of State sits on a Board of Pardonswith the governor, and the Secretary of State commands equal authority with the governor in any pardoning decisions that are issued.
Since the early 1980s, many states have increased efforts to develop direct commercial relations with foreign nations. In several of these states, the state's Secretary of State has been given primary responsibility in this area. Despite this, there should be no confusion of the duties of a particular state's Secretary of State and those of the
United States Secretary of State. The prohibition of the United States Constitutionagainst individual states having diplomatic relations with foreign states is absolute; these recently-evolved duties are of a purely commercial nature.
Several states have given their Secretary of State at least one responsibility that shared by no other Secretary of State:
Delaware, the Secretary of State is the official responsible for handling the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs. [ [http://www.state.de.us/veteran/default.shtml Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs] ]
Indiana, the Secretary of State is responsible for the regulation of auto dealerships. [ [http://www.in.gov/sos/dealer/ Indiana Dealer Division] ]
New Jersey, the Secretary of State is in charge of enhancing and building awareness of ethnic diversity. Other duties include promoting volunteerismand literacy. [ [http://www.state.nj.us/state/channel/diversity.html New Jersey Department of State] ]
New York, the Secretary of State is charged with oversight of the state's thousands of cemeteries. [ [http://www.dos.state.ny.us/cmty/cemetery.html New York Division of Cemeteries] ] The Secretary is also responsible for coastal issues.
North Dakota, in the event of a tie in any election for the state legislature, it is the Secretary of State who tosses the coin to determine the winner. [ [http://www.nd.gov/sos/forms/pdf/biennial-rpt03-04.pdf Fifty-Sixth Biennial Report (2003-2005) of the North Dakota Secretary of State] ]
California, in the event of a tie in any election for state government office (other than Governor or Lieutenant Governor), it is the Secretary of State who determines the winner by lot. [ [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=elec&group=15001-16000&file=15650-15654 California Elections Code 15651] ]
South Carolina, the Secretary of State is in charge of cable televisionfranchises. [ [http://www.scsos.com/Cable_Franchise_Authority South Carolina Cable Franchise Authority] ]
South Dakota, the Secretary of State is the authority for issuance of concealed weapon permits. [ [http://www.sdsos.gov/adminservices/concealedpistolpermits.shtm South Dakota Secretary of State, Concealed Pistol permits] ]
List of Secretaries of State
This is a list of Secretaries of State for each state in the United States. As indicated above, three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah) have no such position, although some of the duties that might normally be performed by the Secretary of State are responsibilities of the
Lieutenant Governorof those states.
*The longest serving statewide Secretary of State in history was
Ben Meierof North Dakota, who served for 34 years from January 1, 1955to December 31, 1988. Bill Gardnerof New Hampshire, who has served nearly 31 years since he was inaugurated on December 8, 1976, will eclipse Meier's record if he is still in office on December 9, 2010.
National Association of Secretaries of State
Rotating Regional Primary System
* [http://www.statelocalgov.net/50states-secretary-state.cfm/ Listing of websites for all 47 Secretaries of State.] , via statelocalgov.net
* [http://www.secstates.com Listing of all Secretary of State corporate search pages] , via SecStates.com
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