I live in the United States and I recently discovered that each state has a Secretary of State. Since the Secretary of State on the federal level deals with foreign affairs, I wasn't sure what the Secretary of State of a state would do. Does a state's Secretary of State manage relations with other states in the US? Or do they actually engage with talks with foreign nations?

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    State secretaries of state are prohibited as a matter of law and constitutional principle from conducting foreign affairs. The fact that the U.S. Secretary of State is charged with conducting foreign affairs is a historical accident.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 18, 2018 at 22:22
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    What's really going on is that the federal Secretary of State is misnamed. Most other countries call this role the Foreign Secretary. There's some history to the misnaming.
    – Barmar
    Apr 18, 2018 at 23:15
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    @Barmar So the US Secretary of State deals with stuff that happens outside the States. This fits in perfectly with the Secretary of the Interior (who is responsible for the outdoors,) the Secretary of Defense (who handles pre-emptive military intervention in other countries) and the Secretary of Homeland Security (do I even need a joke for this one?) Apr 19, 2018 at 13:44
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    @MasonWheeler Don't forget Environmental Protection, who protects polluting companies. I'm not sure what we're learning from the Secretary of Education.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19, 2018 at 14:19
  • @Barmar, @ MasonWheeler - it's as if you guys hadn't read Orwell - or alternatively, as if you had!
    – davidbak
    Jun 28, 2019 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


In virtually every state, the Secretary of State is the person responsible for elections and recordkeeping (i.e recording and publishing state laws, keeping vehicle and business registrations, etc). Here is the description for California's

The California Secretary of State is an elected state executive officer established by the California Constitution. He or she serves as the state's chief election officer, keeps the state's key documents including the constitution and Great Seal, and keeps the state archives. Additionally, the secretary of state registers businesses in the state, commissions notaries public and manages state ballot initiatives.

Some states also allocate other duties to their Secretary. New York has their Secretary in charge of business development

Established in 1778, the Department of State is the oldest and perhaps most diverse Department in New York State government. Long known as the “keeper of records,” it continues today to serve as the official compiler of state agency rules and regulations and publisher of information on the State Constitution, the Great Seal of New York and other official state documents. But, today, the Department has been re-imagined in the Cuomo Administration as a vehicle to help reinvigorate the State’s economy and make our communities more livable.

The Logan Act officially prohibits any state level official from acting on behalf of the United States diplomatically

The Logan Act (1 Stat. 613, 18 U.S.C. § 953, enacted January 30, 1799) is a United States federal law that criminalizes negotiation by unauthorized persons with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States. The intent behind the Act is to prevent unauthorized negotiations from undermining the government's position.[2] The Act was passed following George Logan's unauthorized negotiations with France in 1798, and was signed into law by President John Adams on January 30, 1799.

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    I would add that the federal Constitution expressly forbids states from engaging in foreign diplomacy since the OP asked about that.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Apr 18, 2018 at 17:50
  • @WesSayeed I don't think the Constitution prohibits it, but the Logan Act definitely does. Added that in
    – Machavity
    Apr 18, 2018 at 17:57
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    It's in Article 1, Section 8. It doesn't specifically prohibit states from talking to foreign nations (which the Logan Act does), but it does prohibit all the reasons one would engage in talks with a foreign nation in the first place.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Apr 18, 2018 at 18:02
  • @Machavity Case law has interpreted the constitutional prohibition on state level participation in foreign affairs more broadly although there are a few things are are permitted (e.g. sister city relationships, budgetary decisions with international implications).
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 18, 2018 at 22:24

In a nutshell:

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.


For a list of common duties and states where the Secretary of State has unique responsibilities, see the Wikipedia article referenced above.

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    In particular, a state secretary of state typically manages state election laws, oversees notary regulation, handles the formation of corporations and limited liability companies and other private entities, handles state trademark filings, and is custodian of Uniform Commercial Code non-real estate lien filings.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 18, 2018 at 22:19

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