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 Rico and other U.S. possessions. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, this official is called the secretary of the commonwealth. In states that have one, the secretary of state is the chief clerk of the state, and is often the primary custodian of important state records. 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, in most cases immediately behind the lieutenant governor. In three states with no lieutenant governor (Arizona,[1] Oregon and Wyoming) as well as the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the secretary of state is first in the line of succession in the event of a gubernatorial vacancy.

Currently, in 35 states, such as California, Illinois, and Mississippi, the secretary of state is elected,[2] usually for a four-year term. In others, the secretary of state is appointed by the governor; Florida,[3] Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia[4] are amongst the states with this practice. In three states, the secretary of state is elected by the state legislature; the General Assembly of Tennessee meets in joint convention to elect the Secretary of State to a four-year term,[5] and the Maine Legislature and New Hampshire General Court also select their secretaries of state, but to two-year terms.[6] The longest serving state secretary of state in history was Thad A. Eure of North Carolina, who served from 1936 until 1989.

Most secretaries of state, or those acting in that capacity (with the exception of Wisconsin and Hawaii), belong to the National Association of Secretaries of State.


The actual duties of a secretary of state vary widely 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 statute or 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 (although many states also have supervisors of elections, which are usually county elected officials). In 38 states, ultimate responsibility for the conduct of elections, including the enforcement of qualifying rules, oversight of finance regulation and establishment of Election Day procedures falls on the secretary of state. The exceptions are Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.[7]

Florida is one of the many states for which this is true, and for this reason Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris became one of the few state secretaries of state to become well known during the Florida election recount.

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 contracts and practices across the United States, including the registration of liens on personal property. Hand in hand with this duty, in most states the Secretary of State is responsible for state trademark registration and for chartering businesses (usually including partnerships and 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.

In addition to business record, the secretary of state's office is the primary repository of official records in perhaps a majority of states. This includes in most states the official copies of state documents including the actual official copy of the state constitution (and in Delaware, the state-owned copy of the United States Bill of Rights[8]) 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 adoption and divorce decrees. 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 to make decisions as to where the state seal shall be affixed, whether it be onto legislation, state contracts, or other official documents.

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 agent for a professional athlete.

In several states (including Indiana, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and Wyoming), the secretary of state is responsible for oversight of the securities industry.

In Illinois, Maine, and Michigan, the secretary of state is in charge of the issuance of driver's licenses, motor vehicle registrations, and collecting motor vehicle taxes. In many other states, these duties fall under an organization such as departments of motor vehicles, transportation, or state police.

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 put the Secretary of State in charge of the use of public property. In most cases this means only public buildings (usually the state capitol building), but in Mississippi it also includes some lands that are legally defined as belonging to the state, such as tidelands.[9]

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 seal upon the governor's proclamation. However, in Delaware[10] and Nebraska,[11] the Secretary of State sits on a Board of Pardons with 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 Constitution[12] against individual states having diplomatic relations with foreign states is absolute; these recently evolved duties are of a purely commercial nature.

In Maine and California, in the event of some electoral ties, it is the secretary of state who determines the winner by drawing lots. In California, this does not extend to primary elections, or to the elections of the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor.[13] In Maine, this duty only applies to primary elections.[14]

Unique responsibilities

Several states have given their secretary of state at least one responsibility that is shared by no other state's secretary:

Current Secretaries of State

Officeholder State Party Assumed office Title
Merrill, JohnJohn Merrill Alabama Rep January 19, 2015 Secretary of State
Mallott, ByronByron Mallott Alaska Dem December 16, 2014 Lieutenant Governor
Mauga, LemanuLemanu Mauga American Samoa Dem January 3, 2013 Lieutenant Governor
Reagan, MicheleMichele Reagan Arizona Rep January 5, 2015 Secretary of State
Martin, MarkMark Martin Arkansas Rep January 11, 2011 Secretary of State
Padilla, AlexAlex Padilla California Dem January 5, 2015 Secretary of State
Williams, WayneWayne Williams Colorado Rep January 13, 2015 Secretary of State
Merrill, DeniseDenise Merrill Connecticut Dem January 5, 2011 Secretary of the State
Bullock, JeffreyJeffrey Bullock Delaware Dem January 20, 2009 Secretary of State
Vaughan, LaurenLauren Vaughan District of Columbia Dem January 2, 2015 Secretary of the District
Detzner, KenKen Detzner Florida Rep February 17, 2012 Secretary of State
Kemp, BrianBrian Kemp Georgia Rep January 8, 2010 Secretary of State
Tenorio, RayRay Tenorio Guam Rep January 3, 2011 Lieutenant Governor
Tsutsui, ShanShan Tsutsui Hawaii Dem December 27, 2012 Lieutenant Governor
Denney, LawerenceLawerence Denney Idaho Rep January 5, 2015 Secretary of State
White, JesseJesse White Illinois Dem January 11, 1999 Secretary of State
Lawson, ConnieConnie Lawson Indiana Rep March 16, 2012 Secretary of State
Pate, PaulPaul Pate Iowa Rep January 1, 2015 Secretary of State
Kobach, KrisKris Kobach Kansas Rep January 10, 2011 Secretary of State
Grimes, AlisonAlison Grimes Kentucky Dem January 2, 2012 Secretary of State
Schedler, TomTom Schedler Louisiana Rep November 22, 2010 Secretary of State
Dunlap, MatthewMatthew Dunlap Maine Dem January 7, 2013 Secretary of State
Wobensmith, JohnJohn Wobensmith Maryland Rep January 21, 2015 Secretary of State
Galvin, WilliamWilliam Galvin Massachusetts Dem January 1, 1995 Secretary of the Commonwealth
Johnson, RuthRuth Johnson Michigan Rep January 1, 2011 Secretary of State
Simon, SteveSteve Simon Minnesota Dem January 5, 2015 Secretary of State
Hosemann, DelbertDelbert Hosemann Mississippi Rep January 10, 2008 Secretary of State
Kander, JasonJason Kander Missouri Dem January 14, 2013 Secretary of State
McCulloch, LindaLinda McCulloch Montana Dem January 5, 2009 Secretary of State
Gale, JohnJohn Gale Nebraska Rep December 2000 Secretary of State
Cegavske, BarbaraBarbara Cegavske Nevada Rep January 5, 2015 Secretary of State
Gardner, BillBill Gardner New Hampshire Dem December 1976 Secretary of State
Guadagno, KimKim Guadagno New Jersey Rep January 19, 2010 Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor
Brad Winter New Mexico Rep December 15, 2015 Secretary of State
Perales, CesarCesar Perales New York Dem May 2, 2011 Secretary of State
Marshall, ElaineElaine Marshall North Carolina Dem January 1997 Secretary of State
Jaeger, AlAl Jaeger North Dakota Rep January 1, 1993 Secretary of State
Torres, RalphRalph Torres Northern Mariana Islands Rep January 12, 2015 Lieutenant Governor
Husted, JonJon Husted Ohio Rep January 10, 2011 Secretary of State
Benge, ChrisChris Benge Oklahoma Rep November 8, 2013 Secretary of State
Atkins, JeanneJeanne Atkins Oregon Dem March 11, 2015 Secretary of State
Cortés, PedroPedro Cortés Pennsylvania Dem January 20, 2015 Secretary of the Commonwealth
Suárez, VíctorVíctor Suárez Puerto Rico PPD/Dem December 9, 2015 Secretary of State
Gorbea, NellieNellie Gorbea Rhode Island Dem January 6, 2015 Secretary of State
Hammond, MarkMark Hammond South Carolina Rep January 15, 2003 Secretary of State
Krebs, ShantelShantel Krebs South Dakota Rep January 10, 2015 Secretary of State
Hargett, TreTre Hargett Tennessee Rep January 15, 2009 Secretary of State
Cascos, CarlosCarlos Cascos Texas Rep January 13, 2015 Secretary of State
Cox, SpencerSpencer Cox Utah Rep October 16, 2013 Lieutenant Governor
Condos, JimJim Condos Vermont Dem January 6, 2011 Secretary of State
Potter, OsbertOsbert Potter U.S. Virgin Islands Ind January 5, 2015 Lieutenant Governor
Stoney, LevarLevar Stoney Virginia Dem January 17, 2014 Secretary of the Commonwealth
Wyman, KimKim Wyman Washington Rep January 16, 2013 Secretary of State
Tennant, NatalieNatalie Tennant West Virginia Dem January 19, 2009 Secretary of State
La Follette, DougDoug La Follette Wisconsin Dem January 3, 1983 Secretary of State
Murray, EdEd Murray Wyoming Rep January 5, 2015 Secretary of State

See also


Further reading

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