Descriptions of Elected Offices
Do you know what they do?
Qualifications and responsibilities for federal and state offices
Federal and state offices are typically up for election in even years. Offices up for election in odd years are most often a result of a vacancy, i.e., resignation or death while in office. If elected to one of these vacancies, the candidate would fill the position until the end of the regular term.
The following offices have different qualifications to run and serve, and varying responsibilities. One common qualification for all these elected offices is that a candidate must be a registered voter.
Except for the President and Vice President, all federal officials elected in Washington must be registered voters of the state. Only federal offices have age requirements above and beyond being a registered voter.
The President must be at least 35 years of age and a natural born U.S. citizen. Voters indirectly elect the President through the Electoral College. The President is elected to a four-year term and cannot serve more than two elected terms.
The chief duty of the President is to ensure the laws of the nation are faithfully executed. This duty is largely performed through appointments for thousands of federal positions, including secretaries of cabinet-level agencies and federal judges (subject to confirmation by the Senate). The President is the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, has the power to sign and veto (reject) laws passed by Congress, and makes treaties with foreign governments (with Senate approval).
The Vice President serves as the presiding officer of the Senate. The Vice President becomes President if the office is vacated.
The United States’ Senate and House of Representatives have equal responsibility for declaring war, maintaining the armed forces, assessing taxes, borrowing money, minting currency, regulating commerce, and making all laws and budgets necessary for the operation of government.
Senators must be at least 30 years old and citizens of the U.S. for at least nine years. Senators serve six-year terms. The Senate has 100 members; two from each state.The Senate has several exclusive powers, including consenting to treaties, confirming federal appointments made by the President, and trying federal officials impeached by the House of Representatives.
Representatives must be at least 25 years old and citizens of the U.S. for at least seven years. Representatives are not required to be registered voters of their district, but must be registered voters of the state. Representatives serve two-year terms. The House of Representatives has 435 members, all of whom are up for election in even-numbered years. Each state has a different number of members based on population. After the 2010 Census, Washington was given a 10th Congressional District.
State executive offices
Statewide-elected executives must be registered Washington voters and are elected to four-year terms.
The Governor is the chief executive officer of the state and makes appointments for hundreds of state positions, including directors of state agencies (subject to confirmation by the Senate). The Governor has the power to sign or veto (reject) legislation, and annually submits a budget recommendation and reports on state affairs to the Legislature.
The Lieutenant Governor is elected independent of the Governor, and serves as the presiding officer of the state Senate. The Lieutenant Governor is first in line of succession and becomes Acting Governor whenever the Governor leaves the state or is otherwise unable to serve.
Secretary of State
The Secretary of State leads the state Elections Division, Corporations and Charities Division, state Archives and Library, and other programs and services. The Office of the Secretary of State manages corporation and charity filings, collects and preserves historical state records, and governs the use of the state flag and seal. The Secretary of State is second in line of succession for Governor.
As the state’s finance officer, the Treasurer manages the cash flow, investments, and debt of all major state accounts. The Treasurer serves on the State Investment Board, providing guidance for the management of longterm debt and investments, and Chairs the Public Deposit Protection Commission, ensuring the safety of public deposits in qualified banks.
The Auditor works with state and local governments to conduct independent financial and performance audits. The Auditor publicly investigates state employee whistleblower claims about agencies and reports of fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer money received through its citizen hotline.
The Attorney General serves as legal counsel to the Governor, members of the Legislature, state officials, and more than 200 state agencies, boards, commissions, colleges, and universities. The Office of the Attorney General protects the public by upholding the Consumer Protection Act and provides public information about consumer rights and scams.
Commissioner of Public Lands
The Commissioner of Public Lands is the head of the Department of Natural Resources, overseeing management of more than 5 million acres of state forest, agricultural, range, aquatic, and commercial lands. The Commissioner manages the state’s largest on-call fire department, preventing and fighting wildfires on 13 million acres of private, state and tribal-owned forest lands.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
The Superintendent heads the state education agency and is chief executive officer of the state Board of Education. The Superintendent is responsible for the administration of the state’s kindergarten through twelfth grade education program. The office certifies teaching personnel, approves and accredits programs, and distributes state and local funds.
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner regulates insurance companies doing business in Washington, licenses agents and brokers, reviews policies and rates, examines the operations and finances of insurers, and handles inquiries and complaints from the public.
State legislative offices
Legislators propose and enact public policy, set a budget, provide for the collection of taxes to support state and local government. Legislators must be registered voters of their district.
The Senate has 49 members; one from each legislative district in the state. Senators are elected to four-year terms, and approximately one-half the membership of the Senate is up for election each even-numbered year. The Senate’s only exclusive duty is to confirm appointments made by the governor.
The House of Representatives has 98 members; two from each legislative district in the state. Representatives areelected to two-year terms, so the total membership of the House is up for election each even-numbered year.
State judicial offices
Washington judges are nonpartisan. Judicial candidates must be in good standing to practice law in Washington and are prohibited from statements that appear to commit them on legal issues that may come before them in court. Judges must be registered Washington voters.
Supreme Court Justice
The Washington Supreme Court is the highest judiciary in the state. State Supreme Court justices hear appeals and decide cases from Courts of Appeals and other lower courts. Nine justices are elected statewide to serve six-year terms.
Court of Appeals Judge
Court of Appeals judges hear appeals from Superior Courts. A total of 22 judges serve three divisions headquartered in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. Court of Appeals judges serve six-year terms.
Superior Court Judge
Superior Courts hear felony criminal cases, civil matters, divorces, juvenile cases, and appeals from the lower courts. Superior Courts are organized by county into 30 districts. Superior Court judges serve four-year terms.