Relationship Between Michigan's State & Local Governments

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The state of Michigan has multiple levels of government to help daily administration be as efficient as possible. In this lesson, we'll look at these various levels and see how they interact.

Michigan Government

Fresh water is important in Michigan. Really, water's important everywhere, but it means something special in this mid-western state. In fact, Michigan has more fresh water coastline than any other state or province in the world. It's the only US state to touch 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, and has the world's only floating post office. In fact, no point in the entire state of Michigan is more that 6 miles from some body of fresh water. That's pretty cool. But who oversees all this water, and its proper usage? Like all US states, Michigan has its own state government, and local governments within it. These entities work together to take care of Michigan's people and its resources, trying to make state politics smooth sailing.

Lake Ontario is the only Great Lake not to touch Michigan

State Government

The state of Michigan created its first constitution back in 1835, making it one of the earlier constitutions outside of the original 13 states. The constitution has been changed since then (the modern version being ratified in 1963), but the overall structure of Michigan's state government is roughly the same, and very similar to most other states in its separation of power between three branches.

The Executive

The executive branch of Michigan's state government is the unit in charge of implementing the laws and overseeing daily administration of the state. It's run by the governor, the highest elected official in the state, as well as a lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general- also elected positions.

The Legislative

The legislative branch makes the laws of the state. Like the US Congress, the Michigan Legislature is divided into two houses, a House of Representatives and a Senate. The representatives elected to these houses debate on laws and policies for the state.

The Judicial

The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the state constitution, as well as the state laws. The highest court in Michigan is the Supreme Court, which both hears cases and oversees the rest of Michigan's court system.

Local Government

The branches of state government are in charge of the large-scale administration of Michigan, but most policies are implemented and enforced by more concentrated local governments. Michigan's local governments fall into one of three categories.


The county government is the largest level of local government, and in terms of authority falls just below the state government. Michigan is divided into 83 counties, which are used to divide administration of the state into more manageable units. They are generally run by a board of commissioners. Historically, county governments were pretty powerful, especially in rural areas, but this has changed over time. Today, county governments most directly control the unincorporated territories within their jurisdiction. When an area becomes incorporated as a city or town, it gains the right to its own local government.

Counties of Michigan


Most of Michigan's local government is pretty similar to what you'll see across the USA. There is, however, one big exception. Michigan is one of few states to still divide its land into townships, which are administrative divisions within a county. There are 1,240 townships in Michigan, which are treated as differently than cities. More than half of Michigan's residents live in a township, not a city, which range in size from townships of ten people, to those of nearly 100,000.

This system dates back to the state's earliest history as part of the Northwest Territory, the first territory created by the then-new United States. Thomas Jefferson was actually the one to propose dividing the territory into consistent administrative units to help populate and govern the land in a uniform fashion. That idea would lead to Michigan's township system.

Townships divide counties into smaller administrative units

Townships do have some rights to their own self-governance, especially those called charter townships. A charter township has more autonomy than other townships and is better protected from having part of it annexed by neighboring cities.

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