County Basics

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Counties Are Close to Home

Even if you live in a city or town that has its own government, there is another government very close by: your county government!

Think of government like a series of layers. There are very small layers, like a school board, and there is the giant layer of the federal government. In between are lots of other layers you may not even be aware of.

A county is a geographical area that is usually larger than a city but much smaller than a state. It has its own government and its own responsibilities to serve the people that live inside its borders.

Some states call their counties by a different name. These states have “county equivalents” – geographic areas that operate like a county but aren’t called counties.

Follow the link to find out about the county where you live.

  • When the page opens, close the popup that appears.
  • Click “State Search” near the top of the page and select your state from the drop-down box. A popup will appear showing a map your state’s counties.
  • In the popup box, click the menu icon in the upper left corner. A list of your state’s counties will appear.

Answer the questions below. Do not leave the website when you’re finished! You’ll need it on the next slide.

County Characteristics

Some counties are small. Other counties are huge! You can measure a county by its size and its population.

No matter the size, counties are made up of people. The people in a county are usually the ones who work in the county government. Many county officials get their jobs by being elected by voters.

  • In the same popup box you were looking at for Slide 1, click the name of your county. (If you closed the web page, go back to Slide 1 and follow the link and directions again.)
  • When you click the name of your county, you will see detailed information about your county. Use this information to answer the questions below.

Do not close the web page when you’re finished! You’ll continue on the next slide.

  1. Do the math to see how many people have moved in to your county since 1980. (Hint: Start with the most recent population figure, then subtract the 1980 population figure from that number.)
  2. List three types of elected officials in your county.
  3. Click the link to the Google map of your county in the upper right corner. Is your county mostly made up of cities and towns? Is it mostly open space? A mixture of both?
Counties Mean Business

County governments have a lot of work to do. Different states assign counties different kinds of responsibilities, so counties in some states are in charge of more things than counties in other states. But almost all counties have certain things in common. For example, counties are almost always in charge of holding elections. That’s right – even when people vote to elect the next president, in most places the county handles the details of the election. The county sets up the voting sites, prints the ballots, and even provides information so voters can understand the candidates and issues.

Now you’ll take a look at what YOUR county does.

  • In the same popup box you were looking at for Slide 1, click the link to your county’s website. (If you closed the web page, go back and follow the link and directions on Slides 1 & 2 again.)
  • On your county’s website, take a look at the different departments in your county government. Use the website to answer the questions below.
Counties Are Popular

We already saw that counties are made up of people. But who, exactly, is there? Every ten years, the U.S. government conducts a census to count the entire U.S. population. At the same time, census forms ask for a lot of other information from citizens. This helps us understand how the population is changing and what kinds of needs people might have.

One way census information gets broken down is by county.

  • Follow the link to see a census website where you can find out facts about your county.
  • Type the name of your county in the box and press enter. (Do not “select a fact.”) A long list of statistics about your county will appear. 
Counties Have a History

Pretty much everything has a history, counties included. In fact, counties in the U.S. have been around a really long time. Not only that, there are some counties that used to exist but don’t anymore. These counties are called “extinct,” like dinosaurs. Often they got absorbed into new counties that were created.

Follow the link to find out exactly how long counties have been around. Then, follow the directions in the questions below.

County Name Guessing Game

You can imagine how difficult it is to come up with names for all of the different counties in the United States. County names come from many different sources: people, geography, places in England, traditional Native American names… even fruits!  Can you think of any county names in your state?  

This link will take you to a game where you can guess the top 200 county names and see how many U.S. counties share those names. (Hint: Put your history hat on!)

  • Play until you’re stuck (for at least three minutes) and then click “Give Up?” to see the answers.
  • After you’ve taken the quiz, answer the questions below.