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The State Governments

( Originally Published 1918 )

The government of each state is an autonomy, and each is the supreme judge of its own laws, except so far as affected by the laws and Constitution of the United States.

The Chief Executive is a governor elected by the people for terms of varying length.

The Legislative Body is composed of two houses, an upper and a lower, also elected by the people.

The judiciary is selected by varying methods, in some states being elected directly by the people, in others by the legislature, and in still others (in some instances) appointed by the governor.


Each state is divided into counties, the governing body of which consists of a board of super-visors or commissioners of three or more members who serve for a term varying from one to six years. The members are elected by the people and the sessions of the board are held at the county seat.

Duties of the Board.—It fixes the rate of taxation for the county. Under it are the tax assessors, tax collectors, road supervisors and other subordinate officials. It makes contracts for repairing roads and for building and repairing public buildings; appropriates money for the support of schools, for the support of the poor, for the payment of the salaries of county officers, and for all necessary expenses of the county government.

Other County Officers Are : County clerk, clerk of the circuit court, recorder, county judge, state's attorney, sheriff, superintendent of schools, treasurer, surveyor, and coroner.


Classes of Municipalities.—Municipal governments are of three classes: townships, towns, and cities.

Townships are territorial subdivisions of a county, six miles square, with powers of local government in school affairs only, being governed in other matters by the county board.

Towns, boroughs, and villages, as they are variously called in different parts of the country, are chartered communities having a simple form of organization and power of local government by means of a body of three or more trustees or burgesses or commissioners, presided over by a mayor, president, or chief burgess.

Cities are enlarged towns with a more complex government, greater powers, more numerous officers, usually presided over by a mayor and governed by a council, whose members are elected from municipal divisions called wards.

Commission Government.—Many cities in various States are now governed by a "commission" instead of by a mayor and other city officials. A certain number of commissioners are elected from the city at large, who in turn elect one of their number to act as mayor and divide with each other the administration of the city departments. A limited number of members of the commission, usually only five, has been the customary practice, in order to concentrate responsibility of government.


The Initiative has been defined as "the giving to the people the right of proposing legislation to be acted upon;" the Referendum as "the referring of legislation to the people for final acceptance or rejection."

The Referendum as it is now generally advocated requires that no law except of a strictly defined class of urgent measures for the public peace, health, and safety, which usually must have a two-thirds or three-fourths majority to pass, shall go into effect without waiting a fixed time, say ninety days. If during this time a part of the voters, say ten per cent, sign a petition for the referendum on that law, it would not go into effect till the next regular election, when the people would vote on it, and if a majority voted "No," it would not be a law.

The Initiative gives the people the power to originate laws. If a certain percentage of the voters, say ten per cent, sign a petition for a law and file it with the proper official, it must come before the legislature and perhaps be referred to the people. Sometimes the law requires that legislation be referred to the people, whether they petition it or not. This is called the "Compulsory Referendum." Where the referendum is taken only when a certain number petition for it, it is called the "Optional Referendum."

The Referendum and the Initiative provide for direct legislation, that is, legislation directly by the people.


The Recall is a means by which the voters may remove any public official at will, upon petition signed by a certain specified percentage of the qualified electors.

The recall amendment of the constitution of Oregon, adopted in 1908, and which has been made the model for progressive legislation in a number of states, provides that any public officer may be recalled by the filing of a petition signed by twenty-five per cent of the voters. The petition must set forth the reason for the recall, and if the officer does not resign within five days after the petition is filed a special election must be ordered to be held within twenty days to determine whether the people will recall such official. On the ballot at such election the reasons for demanding the recall of the officer may set forth in not more than two hundred words, and his justification may be given in a similar number of words. No petition can be circulated against any officer until he has held the office six months, except that in case of a member of the legislature it may be filed at any time within five days after the opening of the session. At the special election the candidate receiving the highest number of votes is declared elected. The special election is held at the public expense, but a second recall petition cannot be filed against an officer unless the petitioners first pay the entire expenses of the first recall election.

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