Citizens in the United States are represented by elected officials at a variety of levels, from the local and municipal to state and federal.
Read more in this section to find out what role each elected official fulfills, how they fit into the organizational structure of their respective governments, and who represents you!
Reaching Out to Legislators
The power to change policy begins by making contact with your elected officials. Learn who to reach out to, and how at the following links:
U.S. Elected Officials: Federal Government
Federal elections occur every two years, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Every member of the House of Representatives and about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection in any given election year. A presidential election is held every fourth year. Federal elections are administered by state and local governments, although the specifics of how elections are conducted differ between the states. The Constitution and laws of the United States grant the states wide latitude in how they administer elections.
- Branches of the United States Government
- House of Representatives Organizational Chart
- Senate Organizational Chart
- House Directory
- Senate Directory
U.S. Elected Officials: State Government
All state governments are modeled after the federal government and consist of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The U.S. Constitution mandates that all states uphold a “republican form” of government, although the three-branch structure is not required.
In every state, the executive branch is headed by a governor who is directly elected by the people. In most states, the other leaders in the executive branch are also directly elected, including the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and auditors and commissioners. States reserve the right to organize in any way, so they often vary greatly with regard to executive structure. No two state executive organizations are identical.
All 50 states have legislatures made up of elected representatives, who consider matters brought forth by the governor or introduced by its members to create legislation that becomes law. The legislature also approves a state’s budget and initiates tax legislation and articles of impeachment. Except for one state, Nebraska, all states have a bicameral legislature made up of two chambers: a smaller upper house and a larger lower house. Together the two chambers make state laws and fulfill other governing responsibilities. (Nebraska is the lone state that has just one chamber in its legislature.) The smaller upper chamber is always called the Senate, and its members generally serve longer terms, usually four years. The larger lower chamber is most often called the House of Representatives, but some states call it the Assembly or the House of Delegates. Its members usually serve shorter terms, often two years.
State judicial branches are usually led by the state supreme court, which hears appeals from lower-level state courts. Court structures and judicial appointments/elections are determined either by legislation or the state constitution. The Supreme Court focuses on correcting errors made in lower courts and therefore holds no trials. Rulings made in state supreme courts are normally binding; however, when questions are raised regarding consistency with the U.S. Constitution, matters may be appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.
- Branches of State & Local Government
- State Constitutions, Statutes, and Codes
- National Council of State Legislatures: Organization, Procedure & Facilities of State Legislatures
U.S. Elected Officials: Local & Municipal Government
Local governments generally include two tiers: counties, also known as boroughs in Alaska and parishes in Louisiana, and municipalities, or cities/towns. In some states, counties are divided into townships. Municipalities can be structured in many ways, as defined by state constitutions, and are called, variously, townships, villages, boroughs, cities, or towns. Various kinds of districts also provide functions in local government outside county or municipal boundaries, such as school districts or fire protection districts.
Municipalities generally take responsibility for parks and recreation services, police and fire departments, housing services, emergency medical services, municipal courts, transportation services (including public transportation), and public works (streets, sewers, snow removal, signage, and so forth). Whereas the federal government and state governments share power in countless ways, a local government must be granted power by the state. In general, mayors, city councils, and other governing bodies are directly elected by the people.