Much like the federal government, state and local governments are also organized into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The exact office names, term lengths, and whether or not they are elected vs. appointed vary by location. In short, it’s very confusing! We recommend you look up your own representatives to be sure, but here are some positions that are common across most cities:
- Lieutenant Governor
- Auditor/ Controller
- Secretary of State
- Various commissioners and secretaries
|- County Executive
- Auditor/ Controller
- Assessor/ Appraiser
- County Sheriff
- Various commissioners
||- State legislators (upper and lower chambers)
||- Board of Supervisors / County Commissioners1
||- City Council
||- Attorney General
- State Supreme Court justices
|- District Attorney
- Trial court judges
- Appellate court judges
|- City Attorney
- Municipal court judges
||- School district boards
- Public service district directors
1 County legislators often have executive powers and will appoint other county officials as well.
2 The U.S. court structure is organized by the types of cases that they hear, and it can get rather confusing. Your district attorney, for example, is the attorney for your federal district, whereas your district trial court and appellate court judges are part of the state court system.
This is an example of a ballot from Orange County, Florida back in November 2016. Even during presidential elections, a lot of local positions can be up for grabs. We annotated this one to show what-the-heck these different positions mean.
State Attorney 9th Judicial Circuit: The state attorney is essentially the lawyer that represents the state in trial courts. They can be influential in handing out sentences for cases, which can set a precedent for future cases.
State Senator: Similar to US Senators, State Senators are involved with passing state laws. However, unlike US Senators, State Senators serve 2 to 4 year terms (rather than 6 years) and represent individual districts (instead of the entire state).
Sheriff: Whereas police serve specific cities, sheriffs are the chief law enforcement official for entire counties. But their duties can often go beyond policing -- from overseeing jails, confinement facilities, and courts to managing emergency procedures in your area.
Property Appraiser: The appraiser determines values for every property in the county on an annual basis and hands this off to the state’s Department of Revenue -- which, basically, determines how much you have to pay on taxes on a building.
Justice of the Supreme Court: This one might be confusing at first glance -- while we all know about THE Supreme Court, this position refers to Florida’s State Supreme Court. State Supreme Court justices are not always elected or removed by the public, but they can be.
Fifth District Court of Appeal: These courts are intermediaries between trial courts and the State Supreme Court, where decisions from trial courts can be challenged.
School Board Member: The school board might sound like a boring, inconsequential position, but it can have a lot of influence on curriculum, budgets, and hiring guidelines in your local K-12 schools.
Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor: Supervisors work on implementing plans and programs to address natural resource and conservation concerns. They can be important representatives for communities when it comes to agricultural policy-making. This position is specific to certain states, and in Florida, supervisors receive no monetary compensation.
How to find ALL of your representatives
We have yet to find a good resource that lets you see all of your federal, state, county, and city level representatives at a glance. So instead, we use a patchwork of websites.
Common Cause. Displays all federal and state-level representatives. User-friendly.
Los Angeles Forward. Displays most prominent federal, state, county, and city-level representatives. Works outside of LA!
Ballotpedia's Who Represents Me. Always reliable, always overwhelming. Missing city level but has just about everything else.
- Your official respective state, county, and city websites - when all else fails, just go straight to the source. It will probably take some digging but at least it will be reliable.