What does the Secretary of State do?

If you’re starting a business you’ve likely heard of the Secretary of State. What is the Secretary of State? Why is the office so important to business formation? Find out how this government office helps you start a business.

Ready to start your business?

Excellent TrustScore 4.5 out of 5
1,818 reviews Trustpilot
Five coworkers are meeting around a table in their new office after forming an LLC.

by Heather R. Johnson
updated March 15, 2023 ·  3min read

The Secretary of State has very different roles at the state and federal level. The United States Secretary of State executes nonmilitary and non-Homeland Security aspects of foreign policy. The U.S. Secretary of State, as the head of the State Department, administers United States Embassies and their subsidiary units worldwide. The U.S. Secretary of State is fourth in line to succeed the Presidency.

What is the Secretary of State?

At the state level, the Secretary of State is a state government official in 47 of the 50 U.S. states, as well as Puerto Rico and other U.S. possessions. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the position is called the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

What does the Secretary of State do?

In addition to acting as record keeper for a wide range of documents, the Secretary of State serves as the state’s chief elections officer. He or she implements electronic filing and Internet disclosure of campaign and lobbyist financial information.

How is the Secretary of State involved in business formation?

When you start a business, whether a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation, the Secretary of State’s office, sometimes called the Department of State, registers and authenticates business entities and trademarks. These state offices process, file, and maintain records related to business entities.

New businesses can check business name availability and reserve a business name through the Secretary of State’s office. Many states offer online tools to conduct a business search. Users can often search by name, registered agent, owner name, or other criteria to view documents filed with the department.

LLC formation requires interaction with the Secretary of State’s office. To create an LLC, a business owner must file their articles of organization with their Secretary of State and pay the required filing fee. Most states allow business owners to file these and other documents online. Business owners can also dissolve the LLC, file a judgment lien document, and file documents for a limited partnership, partnership, or nonprofit corporation through the Secretary of State.

If a new business owner decides to incorporate, he or she must file articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State. The business owner can compose his or her own document or use forms provided by the State’s office. For incorporation in California, the business must also file a statement of information with the Secretary of State soon after filing the articles of incorporation and every year thereafter. Annual reports may also be filed, either by mail or online, with the Secretary of State.

What else does the Secretary of State do?

In most states, the Secretary of State administers the Uniform Commercial Code, a body of laws that govern commercial transactions in the United States. The Secretary of State’s office also keeps official records and state documents, including the state constitution, legislative acts, executive orders, and regulations and interpretations of statutes. In a few states, the Secretary of State keeps track of civil records such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and adoption and divorce decrees.

In the majority of states, the Secretary of State administers notaries public—officials that can notarize important legal documents. Depending on the state, duties such as overseeing the state museum, administering driver’s licenses, monitoring lobbyists, and granting pardons and commutations fall to the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State’s office has a wide range of responsibilities. For the business owner, this agency provides the tools to get your business off the ground.

Forming a business through LegalZoom is fast and easy. After you answer a few simple questions online, we review your work for completeness and consistency, check if your business name is available, file your paperwork with the Secretary of State, and complete a personalized operating agreement.

Get help starting your business. Learn More
Heather R. Johnson

About the Author

Heather R. Johnson

Heather R. Johnson is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has worked with words for more than 15 years, si… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.