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The 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, 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, the secretary of state is elected, usually for a four-year term. In others, the secretary of state is appointed by the governor with confirmation with the state's respective Senate; Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia are among 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, and the Maine Legislature and New Hampshire General Court also select their secretaries of state, but to two-year terms. The longest serving state secretary of state in history was Thad A. Eure of North Carolina, who served from 1936 until 1989.
Secretaries of state, or those acting in that capacity, 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.
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, the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of elections, including the enforcement of qualifying rules, oversight of financial 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.
Florida is one of the many states for which this is true, and for this reason, during the 2000 Florida election recount, Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris became one of the few state secretaries of state to become well known nationally.
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 records, 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) 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.
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.
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 and Nebraska, 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 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. In Maine, this duty only applies to primary elections.
Several states have given their secretary of state at least one responsibility that is shared by no other state's secretary:
|Wes Allen||Alabama||Republican||January 16, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Nancy Dahlstrom||Alaska||Republican||December 5, 2022||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket|
|Salo Ale||American Samoa||Democratic||January 3, 2021||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket|
|Adrian Fontes||Arizona||Democratic||January 2, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|John Thurston||Arkansas||Republican||January 15, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Shirley Weber||California||Democratic||February 2, 2021||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Jena Griswold||Colorado||Democratic||January 8, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Stephanie Thomas||Connecticut||Democratic||January 4, 2023||Secretary of the State||Elected|
|Jeffrey Bullock||Delaware||Democratic||January 20, 2009||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Kimberly Bassett||District of Columbia||Democratic||December 11, 2018||Secretary of the District||Appointed|
|Cord Byrd||Florida||Republican||May 16, 2022||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Brad Raffensperger||Georgia||Republican||January 14, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Josh Tenorio||Guam||Democratic||January 7, 2019||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket|
|Sylvia Luke||Hawaii||Democratic||December 5, 2022||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket with separate primary|
|Phil McGrane||Idaho||Republican||January 2, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Alexi Giannoulias||Illinois||Democratic||January 9, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Diego Morales||Indiana||Republican||January 1, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Paul Pate||Iowa||Republican||January 1, 2015||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Scott Schwab||Kansas||Republican||January 14, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Michael Adams||Kentucky||Republican||January 6, 2020||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Kyle Ardoin||Louisiana||Republican||May 1, 2018||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Shenna Bellows||Maine||Democratic||January 4, 2021||Secretary of State||Legislature|
|Susan C. Lee||Maryland||Democratic||January 18, 2023||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Bill Galvin||Massachusetts||Democratic||January 1, 1995||Secretary of the Commonwealth||Elected|
|Jocelyn Benson||Michigan||Democratic||January 1, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Steve Simon||Minnesota||Democratic||January 5, 2015||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Michael Watson||Mississippi||Republican||January 14, 2020||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Jay Ashcroft||Missouri||Republican||January 9, 2017||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Christi Jacobsen||Montana||Republican||January 4, 2021||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Bob Evnen||Nebraska||Republican||January 10, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Cisco Aguilar||Nevada||Democratic||January 2, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|David Scanlan||New Hampshire||Republican||January 10, 2022||Secretary of State||Legislature|
|Tahesha Way||New Jersey||Democratic||January 16, 2018||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Maggie Toulouse Oliver||New Mexico||Democratic||December 9, 2016||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Robert J. Rodriguez||New York||Democratic||November 4, 2021||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Elaine Marshall||North Carolina||Democratic||January 3, 1997||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Michael Howe||North Dakota||Republican||January 1, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Dave Apatang||Northern Mariana Islands||Independent||January 9, 2023||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket|
|Frank LaRose||Ohio||Republican||January 14, 2019||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Brian Bingman||Oklahoma||Republican||October 23, 2020||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|LaVonne Griffin-Valade||Oregon||Democratic||June 30, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Al Schmidt||Pennsylvania||Republican||January 17, 2023||Secretary of the Commonwealth||Appointed|
|Omar Marrero||Puerto Rico||New Progressive||July 12, 2021||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Gregg Amore||Rhode Island||Democratic||January 3, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Mark Hammond||South Carolina||Republican||January 15, 2003||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Monae Johnson||South Dakota||Republican||December 5, 2022||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Tre Hargett||Tennessee||Republican||January 15, 2009||Secretary of State||Legislature|
|Jane Nelson||Texas||Republican||January 3, 2023||Secretary of State||Appointed|
|Deidre Henderson||Utah||Republican||January 4, 2021||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket|
|Sarah Copeland-Hanzas||Vermont||Democratic||January 5, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Tregenza Roach||U.S. Virgin Islands||Democratic||January 7, 2019||Lieutenant Governor||Ticket|
|Kay Coles James||Virginia||Republican||January 15, 2022||Secretary of the Commonwealth||Appointed|
|Steve Hobbs||Washington||Democratic||November 22, 2021||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Mac Warner||West Virginia||Republican||January 16, 2017||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Sarah Godlewski||Wisconsin||Democratic||March 17, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|
|Chuck Gray||Wyoming||Republican||January 2, 2023||Secretary of State||Elected|