How many elected public officials are there in the US?

I read an essay that claimed there are 500,000 elected officials in the United States government. That seems improbable. We’ve got a President, a Vice President, 541 assorted members of Congress, and then what? 499,457 miscellaneous elected officials?

My guess is that the writer was counting up all of the elected officials in the United States not just those in the national government. So we have Governors, Lieutenant Governors, State Senators and Representatives and Assemblymen and Delegates. Plus some states have other elected officials like Attorney Generals or Comptrollers. And then there’s local officials elected at the level of counties, cities, towns, villages, etc.

So what’s the total? How many elected officials are there in the United States?

For purposes of this count, I’m only including public officials - non-governmental offices don’t count. And only people elected by general elections, directly or indirectly - I’m willing to count somebody like the President who’s elected by delegates but not offices like House Speakers or Majority Leaders or Committe Chairmen that are elected by other elected officials.

Political geography of the United States By Fred M. Shelley (1996)

The number could only have gone up since then.

You’re vastly underestimating the number of municipal jurisdictions in the US, I think. In New York alone, there are 62 counties and nearly 1000 towns and cities. Within the towns, there are nearly 3000 incorporated villages. Every one of those counties, cities, towns and villages has some form of elected government, depending on which kind of charter they have. Most villages have a mayor at the very least, and may have a village council. Every town has a town board and some have elected supervisors. All counties (except for those in NYC) have a county executive or county legislature. They also all have elected district attorneys. Every city has a mayor and district-based city council.

Then there are elected school boards, elected utility district boards of various types, elected library boards in some places, elected sheriffs, elected local and state judges (tons of those in NY) and finally, there’s the annual election of the Princess of the Mermaids on Coney Island.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there were 20,000 elected officials in New York. With 50 states, most of them less populous than New York, 500,000 seems a rather reasonable estimate.

Doesn’t sound that surprising. Remember, that at the local level, you may have a lot of elected posts that aren’t full time jobs. Small town mayors and city councils, school boards, etc. Also, some jurisdiction elect some improbable offices, like “drain inspector”.

In the village where I grew up, the mayor wasn’t paid anything, and only expected to work a few hours a week. The position was perpetually filled by bored housewives.

Most of the 500,000 people concerned are in this category; professional politicians are much more rare.

In addition to those that have been mentioned, in my area we have elected hospital boards, elected water boards, elected community college boards, and probably some things I’m forgetting.

And has someone mentioned elected school boards? I think that’s pretty much universal in the U.S.

In some towns above the “village” level, where there IS basically a full time job to be done, the elected officials are still part time. They may opt for the model where the elected mayor and/or city council hires a “city manager” to do the day-to-day administration job, simply meeting occasionally to decide if they are satisfied with the city manager’s performance, and make policy decisions.

In the US, we elect 538 people whose sole job it is to elect two more people to be President/Vice President. We love our democracy.

Just as an example, using a recent consolidated Alameda County (California) ballot there were elections in districts, cites, etc., that accounts for at least 350 elected officials at the county or lower level. And that wouldn’t include various sanitary, fire, healtchare, etc., districts that didn’t have anyone up for election last November.

Personally, I am represented by the following elected officials:

  • President of the United States
  • 2 senators from California
  • 1 representative in House of Representative from California District 13
  • 1 governor of California
  • 1 lieutenant governor of California
  • 1 secretary of state for California
  • 1 attorney general of state of California
  • 1 controller for state of California
  • 1 treasurer for state of California
  • 1 insurance commissioner for state of California
  • 1 superintendent of public instruction for state of California
  • 1 member of the California State Board of Equalization
  • 1 representative in the state assembly
  • 1 representative in the state senate
  • 1 member of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors
  • 1 mayor of Dublin, California
  • 4 city councilpersons for Dublin, California
  • 1 member of the Alameda County Water District
  • 5 board members for the Dublin Unified School District
  • 3 board members of the Dublin-San Ramon Services District
  • 1 board member for East Bay Municipal Water District
  • 1 board member for Bay Area Rapid Transit District
  • 1 board member for East Bay Regional Park District
  • Not sure how many of the 69 elected judges I get to vote for in the Superior Court of Alameda County

So I feel pretty special knowing that there are at least 26 people out there who are supposed to care what I think they should do.

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned judges yet. Most states election some or all levels of judges. Judicial elections can range from a simple yes/no retention vote on an incumbent to full partisan elections (complete with primaries). In Pennsylvania we elect* all of our judges in partisan elections. Appellate judges (Supreme Court, Superior Court, & Commonwealth Court) serve ten year terms, but incumbents are only subject to a retention vote. Court of Common Pleas judges also serve ten year terms, but I think they actually have to run for reelection against other candidates. District magistrates have a shorter term.

*The Governor can fill midterm vacancies by appointment.

Well, no more then a third of the responses in the tread have mentioned them anyways :wink:

Thanks. This was the kind of thing I was looking for.

I understand that. But the writer claimed that there were 500,000 elected officials in the United States government - as you noted, most elected officials in the United States serve at the state or local level.

Unless they somehow specified US federal government, I think you’re being overly nitpicky with the writer. Mayor of West Bumblefrick, Montana may not be part of the US federal govt, but would still be a government official in the US. (Assuming it was an actual city and not something I just made up, anyway)

Don’t be silly, West Bumblefrick is across the border in Idaho. You’re thinking of East Bumblefrick.

If she’s going to write an essay complaining about the size of the government, she should get her basic facts right.

OK, exactly how was the statement phrased?

Right. What if she wrote in United States governments? That would make it correct.

The essay opened:

I vote for a host of county officials such as sheriff, marshall, recorder of deeds, tax assessor, probate judge, public service commission, clerk of court, school board, and on and on. I live in one of Georgia’s 159 counties. Granted, no other state in the Union has as many counties as Georgia does, but assuming each county has at minimum 15 elected officials - I’m sure it’s more than that - that’s nearly 2,400 county officials in Georgia alone.

As noted above, add in municipal officials - for example, not only do I vote for a county commission, I vote for a city commission. Then muliply all those municipal and county officials nationwide, and 500,000 seems to be a quite reasonable estimate.

Actually, Texas, with 254 counties, has Georgia beat – but by the # counties/land area criterion, Georgia would be in the lead, since Texas is so much larger in area.