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A Realtor's Guide to Elected Officials in Pennsylvania


'Which offices can I vote for?'


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Frequently Asked Questions

 

 

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'Which offices can I vote for?'

Click any office below to see how it impacts real estate.

Jump to:  [Local Municipal]  [School District]  [County]  [State]  [Federal]

 

Local Municipal Offices

Borough Council Member

A borough council has broad executive powers to enact legislation, raise and spend public money, regulate land use, and provide other local public services. Councils have three, five, seven or nine members.

Real estate impact (as a council): 

• Sets property tax rates 
• Can impose Earned Income Tax (EIT)
• Vote on ordinances that affect real estate, e.g. point-of-sale inspection ordinances 
• Appoints members of the zoning hearing board, planning commission and other committees 
• Hires code inspectors, solicitors and other third-party officials

Mayor

Borough Mayor:

   • Oversees the police department 
   • Breaks tie votes in borough council
   • Considered “weak mayor” because most of the power lies in the council

   Real estate impact: Limited and indirect

  ○ May break tie votes on tax rates, point-of-sale inspections and other ordinances affecting real estate

City Mayor:

   • Authority to hire and fire department heads
   • Prepares city budget for approval by council
   • Veto power over council votes
   • Considered “strong mayor” with broad administrative authority

   Real estate impact: Administrative

  ○ Appoints department heads, including assessor, licenses and inspections, etc.
  ○ Helps shape city budget, including tax rate

Township Supervisor/Township Commissioner

A township's board of supervisors — or, less commonly, board of commissioners — is charged with general governance of the township and the execution of legislative, executive and administrative powers. 

The board oversees the township manager, who in turn oversees the township administrative departments, and the police chief, if the township has its own police department. The board authorizes spending of taxpayer funds and votes on ordinances in the township code.

Real estate impact (as a board): 

• Sets property tax rates 
• Can impose Earned Income Tax (EIT)
• Passes ordinances that affect real estate, e.g. point-of-sale inspection ordinances 
• Appoints members of the zoning hearing board, planning commission and other committees 
• Hires code inspectors, solicitors and other third-party officials 

Municipal Auditor

A municipal auditor or board of auditors is charged with auditing, settling and adjusting the accounts of elected or appointed officials in the municipality and its boards or agencies.

Real estate impact: Indirect, but proper financial oversight ensures property taxes are spent judiciously.

Municipal Tax Collector

A municipal tax collector may collect county, township, school, institution district and other taxes levied within a municipality by authorities authorized to levy taxes.

Real estate impact: Collects property taxes
 

 

School District Offices

School Director (member of school board)

Term: 4 years

School boards include nine voting members (school directors) and one non-voting member (the superintendent). School directors, though locally elected, are technically state officials, as public schools fall under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. School boards have three main responsibilities: strategic planning, setting district policy and evaluating results.

Real estate impact: 

• Sets property tax rates 
• Can impose earned income taxes (EIT)
• Set policies and priorities that affect students

 

County Offices

County Commissioner/Council Member

Term: 4 years

In Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties — and most other Pennsylvania counties — the board of commissioners consists of three commissioners who serve four-year terms on the same election cycle. Only two candidates from each party may be on the general election ballot, so at least one commissioner must be from a minority party. The board of commissioners is responsible for adoption and administration of the county operating budget and has authority over county departments, including those tasked with emergency services, human services and infrastructure. The commissioners appoint members of county authorities, boards and commissions.

Delaware County, which has operated under home rule since 1976, is led by a five-person county council. Members are elected to four-year terms at staggered two-year intervals when municipal elections are held, which are in odd numbered years. The council has similar responsibilities to a board of commissioners — including passing ordinances, adopting budgets, raising funds through taxes or bond issues, and appointing an executive director to oversee county departments — but home rule allows the council broader powers, such as exceeding state-set tax limits.

Real estate impact: 

• Sets property tax rates
• Oversees property tax assessments
• Creates long-term plans for community development, land use and environmental protection

County Treasurer

Term: 4 years

The county treasurer is responsible for collecting, investing, disbursing and reconciling all county funds. The treasurer collects property taxes, other taxes (e.g. hotel), and in some cases municipal property taxes. Per state law, the treasurer may also issue licenses (e.g. dog, hunting, fishing) and permits (e.g. games of chance). 

Real estate impact: The county treasurer sends out all property tax bills and collects payments. The chart below shows how much revenue is involved:

Bucks County 
$431M: Total county revenue
$202M: Real estate tax revenue
Source: 2019 budget
Chester County 
$475M: Total county revenue
$167M: Real estate tax revenue
Source: 2019 budget
Delaware County 
$335M: Total revenue: $335M 
$171M: Real estate tax revenue
Source: 2019 budget
Montgomery County 
$420M: Total county revenue 
$210M: Real estate tax revenue
Source: 2019 budget

Clerk of Courts

Term: 4 years

The primary responsibility of the Clerk of Courts is the custodian of the criminal court records. The clerk assesses, collects and disburses restitution and court costs.

Real estate impact: Negligible

Controller

Term: 4 years

The county controller serves as an auditor with the authority to ensure that county funds are spent in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. The controller typically also serves as a member of county boards, such as the retirement board. 

Real estate impact: Indirect, but proper financial oversight ensures property taxes are spent judiciously.

Coroner

Term: 4 years

The county coroner provides forensic and laboratory services, investigating and certifying deaths that are not caused by natural disease or that cannot be properly certified by a licensed physician.

Real estate impact: Negligible

Prothonotary

Term: 4 years

The prothonotary is a clerk of the court of common pleas and has administrative control over and responsibility for all official documents and records of the court's civil and family divisions.

Real estate impact: Indirect and administrative

• The prothonotary records and files papers related to real estate, such as judgments, liens, assessment appeals and sheriff's deeds.

Sheriff

Term: 4 years

The sheriff is the county's chief peace officer, with the authority to quell riots and transport prisoners, serve civil process and warrants, execute bench warrants, enforce court orders and assist other law enforcement agencies.

Real estate impact: 

• Sheriffs' offices regularly conduct sales of real estate to satisfy the debt of owners, namely unpaid mortgages and taxes.

Register of Wills

Term: 4 years

The Register of Wills determines whether a document offered for probate should be received as the last will and testament of a person who has died, and files all documents necessary to complete the administration of a decedent's estate. The register can also appoint an administrator of the estate of a person who left no will.  

Real estate impact: 

• May determine who inherits real estate
• Collects inheritance tax on behalf of the state

Recorder of Deeds

Term: 4 years

The Recorder of Deeds maintains all documents related to real estate (deeds, mortgages, subdivision plans, etc.) and various other documents, such as veterans' discharges and notary public commissions. 

Real estate impact: 

• Maintains important real estate records
• May offer fraud-prevention services for property owners

District Attorney

Term: 4 years

The district attorney's office investigates, prosecutes and works to prevent criminal activity. The DA oversees a large team including detectives and lawyers, and works with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Real estate impact: Beyond affecting the overall safety of a community, district attorneys can have more direct effects on real estate. For example: 

District attorneys in Chester and Delaware counties have launched investigations into pipeline construction that many homeowners say is putting their safety at risk and lowering their property values.
• District attorneys also have the authority to seize and auction real estate connected to criminal activity through civil forfeiture laws.

 

State Offices

State Representative

Term: 2 years

Pennsylvania state representatives each represent about 63,000 residents in the state House of Representatives, the lower house of the General Assembly, the state's bicameral legislature. There are 203 house districts in the state, each with one House representative. State representatives write and vote on legislation, which must also be passed in the state Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law. 

Real estate impact: The state legislature has considerable power to impact real estate, including but not limited to the following:

• Real estate agent licensing requirements
• Realty Transfer Tax — Currently 1%. All revenue bills originate in the state House, and legislators sometimes attempt to generate new revenue through real estate transactions.
• Point-of-Sale — The state legislature can pass laws (e.g., Act 133 of 2016) to ensure municipalities act properly regarding real estate transactions and private property rights
• Education and Economic Development Funding Options
• Eminent Domain
• Impact Fees
• Home inspector licensing
• Landlord and tenant issues
• Private property rights
• Property tax assessment reform
• Sales Tax on services
• Seller Disclosure
• 1031 like-kind exchanges — Pennsylvania is the only state that does not offer tax deferments when property is exchanged for similar property. 
• MORE: See the Legislative section of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® for information about state-level issues that affect real estate.

State Senator

Term: 4 years

The Pennsylvania state senate has 50 members, each representing about 256,000 residents. The Senate is the upper house of the General Assembly, the state's bicameral legislature. Senators serve four-year terms, staggered so half of the seats are contested every two years. Senators write and vote on legislation, which must also be passed in the state House of Representatives and signed by the governor before it becomes law. 

Real estate impact: The state legislature has considerable power to impact real estate, including but not limited to the following:

• Real estate agent licensing requirements
• Realty Transfer Tax — Currently 1%.
• Point-of-Sale — The state legislature can pass laws (e.g., Act 133 of 2016) to ensure municipalities act properly regarding real estate transactions and private property rights
• Education and Economic Development Funding Options
• Eminent Domain
• Impact Fees
• Home inspector licensing
• Landlord and tenant issues
• Private property rights
• Property tax assessment reform
• Sales Tax on services
• Seller Disclosure
• 1031 like-kind exchanges — Pennsylvania is the only state that does not offer tax deferments when property is exchanged for similar property.
MORE: See the Legislative section of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® for information about state-level issues that affect real estate.

Magisterial District Court Judge

Term: 6 years

There are 516 magisterial district court judges in Pennsylvania, who are elected to six-year terms and are not required to be lawyers. These "minor courts" judges preside over preliminary arraignments and hearings, set and collect bail, and decide whether criminal cases proceed to the Court of Common Pleas.

Real estate impact: 

• Landlord-tenant disputes involving less than $12,000 are typically heard in magisterial district court.

Common Pleas Court Judge

Term: 10 years

The Courts of Common Pleas are the general trial courts of Pennsylvania. There are 451 common pleas court judges in Pennsylvania, and they are elected to 10-year terms. To limit political considerations, judges do not run for re-election in the typical way; they are retained with a simple "yes" or "no" vote without ballot reference to political affiliation. Common pleas court judges hear appeals from the minor courts and matters involving children and families.

Real estate impact: 

• High-profile property rights cases involving local municipalities are often heard in the common pleas court. Recent high-profile examples include: Toll Brothers/Crebilly Farms in Westtown Township, Chester County, and Elcon Recycling plant in Falls Township, Bucks County.
• Real-estate related lawsuits involving county governments are often heard in common pleas court. For example: Delaware County's comprehensive property reassessment project was ordered by a common pleas judge following a lawsuit brought by homeowners.
• Matters involving utilities and water and sewer authorities are also frequently heard in common pleas court. For example: The dispute over who owns — and by extension, who can sell — the Chester Water Authority, which serves 42,000 customers.

Superior Court Judge

Term length: 10 years

Pennsylvania Superior Court is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts and is often the final arbiter of legal disputes. There are 15 superior court judges, who run in statewide elections and serve 10-year terms. Cases are usually heard by three-judge panels, and the caseload includes appeals from Common Pleas Court.

To limit political considerations, judges do not run for re-election in the typical way; they are retained with a simple "yes" or "no" vote without ballot reference to political affiliation. 

Real estate impact: Real-estate-related cases from common pleas court may be appealed to superior court.

Commonwealth Court Judge

Term length: 10 years

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts, and is primarily responsible for hearing appeals of decisions made by state agencies and the Courts of Common Pleas, specifically lawsuits involving state and local governments. It also acts as a trial court for lawsuits filed by or against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are nine commonwealth judges, who run in statewide elections and serve 10-year terms.

To limit political considerations, judges do not run for re-election in the typical way; they are retained with a simple "yes" or "no" vote without ballot reference to political affiliation.

Real estate impact: 

• Common pleas court rulings regarding private property rights and involving a local government may be appealed to commonwealth court. For example: The Toll Brothers lawsuit regarding a big development in Westtown, Chester County, was appealed to Commonwealth Court.
• Local tax lawsuits are often decided in commonwealth court. For example: A taxpayer's lawsuit against Lower Merion School District regarding its use of exemptions to raise tax rates was heard in Commonwealth Court.

Supreme Court Justice

Term length: 10 years

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court consists of seven justices, each elected to 10-year terms. Supreme Court judicial candidates may run on party tickets. Justices must step down when they reach age 75. The Supreme Court hears discretionary appeals from the intermediate courts and occasionally directly from lower courts, requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings, and requests to deliver a person from illegal detention. 

Real estate impact: High-profile lawsuits regarding real-estate topics may be decided by the Supreme Court. For example: The Supreme Court recently sided with a Hamilton Township, Monroe County, regulation that banned short-term rentals in residential areas. The court will likely also hear major school funding cases involving Lower Merion and William Penn school districts.

Lieutenant Governor

Term length: 4 years

The lieutenant governor's only constitutional duties are to be president of the state Senate, breaking tie votes when necessary, and chairing the Board of Pardons. In the event the governor dies, resigns, is convicted on impeachment or otherwise fails to finish a term, the lieutenant governor becomes the governor for the remainder of the term. The lieutenant governor serves a four-year term and is elected separately from the governor during the primaries, but then the two become a joint ticket in the general election. 

Real estate impact: Negligible — The lieutenant governor has the ability to break tie votes in the Senate on bills that may affect real-estate.

Governor

Term length: 4 years

The governor is granted "supreme executive power" by the Pennsylvania constitution, serving as the head of the executive branch of state government and the commander-in-chief of the Pennsylvania National Guard. The governor serves a four-year term, and may only serve two terms. He or she has the power to sign into law bills passed by the General Assembly, or to veto them. The governor submits a proposed budget to the legislature each year. He or she appoints several state officers, such as the secretary of education, and has a duty to enforce laws.

Real estate impact: 

• Proposes budget, with potential to change real estate transfer tax
• Appoints members of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission
• Awards grants to municipal governments for housing and infrastructure projects
• Governors have the ability to affect real estate in many ways. For example: Opportunity zone designations fell to each state’s governor.

 

 

Federal Offices

U.S. Representative

Term length: 2 years

A member of the U.S. House of Representatives, known as a congressman or a congresswoman, is elected to a two-year term serving the people of a specific congressional district. There are 435 voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, each with a district of about 747,000 constituents. Representatives introduce bills and resolutions, offer amendments and serve on committees. Any bills approved by the House must also be passed out of the Senate before being signed into law.

Real estate impact: U.S. representatives can sponsor and vote on bills important to Realtors®, including:

• National Flood Insurance Program
• Health insurance regulation and reform
• Government-sponsored entities (Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac)
• Tax policy, including the mortgage interest deduction and provisions affecting Realtors® as small-business owners
MORE: Read more about federal policy positions on the National Association of Realtors® Federal Advocacy website.

U.S. Senator

Term length: 6 years

United States Senators serve six-year terms, with about one-third of the 100 members being elected every two years. Each state has two senators, regardless of population. The Senate is considered the upper house of Congress, with responsibilities that include writing and voting on legislation, agreeing to international treaties and confirming federal officials like Supreme Court Justices. Bills approved in the Senate must also be passed out of the House before being signed into law.

Real estate impact: U.S. senators can sponsor and vote on bills important to Realtors®, including:

• National Flood Insurance Program
• Health insurance regulation and reform
• Government-sponsored entities (Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac)
• Tax policy, including the mortgage interest deduction and provisions affecting Realtors® as small-business owners
MORE: Read more about federal policy positions on the National Association of Realtors® Federal Advocacy website.

President

Term length: 4 years

The president is the head of the executive branch of federal government and the commander-in-chief of the military. The president's duties include execution and enforcement of federal law, appointing federal executive, diplomatic, regulatory and judicial officers, and concluding treaties with foreign powers with the advice and consent of the Senate. The president often wields considerable influence in the legislative branch, as bills passed in Congress must be signed into law or vetoed by the president, though vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Real estate impact: The president's broad executive power can influence real estate in many ways.

• Appoints cabinet heads, including the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
• Leads regulatory agencies, such as those tasked with regulating pollution
MORE: Read more about federal policy positions on the National Association of Realtors® Federal Advocacy website.

   
 

 

 

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Preview Your Ballot

County election bureaus give voters the opportunity to see what their ballots will look like weeks before the election. 

Bucks County Board of Elections

Delaware County sample ballots

Chester County sample ballots 

Montgomery County sample ballots 

 

 

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State Legislative Maps  

Click on any map to enlarge.

Bucks County
House of Representatives

Bucks County
Senate

Chester County
House of Representatives

Chester County
Senate

Delaware County
House of Representatives

Delaware County
Senate

Montgomery County
House of Representatives

Montgomery County
Senate

 

 

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Quiz — Test Your Knowledge of Local Government

 
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Frequently Asked Questions

Do Realtor® associations endorse political candidates?

Yes, the Realtors® Political Action Committee (RPAC) and the Southeast Realtors® Political Action Committee (SERPAC) interview candidates and may support/endorse their campaigns. For more information visit:

2019 SERPAC endorsements
SRA's Political Advocacy page
• Realtor® Party website

 

How do I check my voter registration status?

Visit the Pennsylvania Department of State's Voter Services website.

 

I'm a Realtor® and considering running for office. Whom can I speak with?

Visit our Contact Us page.

 

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