There are 36 Oregon counties. The smallest county in geographic size is the largest county in population (Multnomah). Many of the Eastern Oregon counties are larger in geographic size than several eastern states (Harney, Malheur, Lake). One Oregon county is in a different time zone from the rest of the state (Malheur). Oregon's diverse climate, from the wet Pacific coast and Willamette Valley, to the relative dry rangelands of Eastern Oregon with the Cascade Mountains in between, leads to a robust opportunity to generate and foster an atmosphere of collaboration and shared responsibility among the 36 counties.
Originally, counties functioned almost exclusively as agents of the state government. Their every activity had to be either authorized or mandated by state law. However, in 1958, an amendment to the Oregon Constitution authorized counties to adopt “home rule” charters, and a 1973 state law granted all counties power to exercise broad “home rule” authority. As a result, the national Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has identified county government in Oregon as having the highest degree of local discretionary authority of any state in the nation.
Nine counties have adopted “home rule” charters, wherein voters have the power to adopt and amend their own county government organization. Lane and Washington were the first to adopt “home rule” in 1962, followed by Hood River (1964), Multnomah (1967), Benton (1972), Jackson (1978), Josephine (1980), Clatsop (1988) and Umatilla (1993).
Twenty-eight of Oregon’s 36 counties, including the nine with charters, are governed by a board of commissioners comprised of three to five elected members. The remaining eight counties are governed by a “county court” consisting of a county judge and two commissioners. There are 120 elected county commissioners and county judges in Oregon.
On the left, you will find links to several resources with more information about Oregon counties, Oregon county commissioners and county judges and more on what Oregon counties do. If you need additional information, please feel free to contact the Association of Oregon Counties at (503) 585-8351.