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June 13, 2019 | News

Why does Georgia have so many counties?

Writer: Jerry Carnes

Published June 10, 2019
11 Alive

Summer travel in Georgia will have you wondering why the state is divided into so many counties.

Georgia’s is the eighth largest state in population, but our 159 counties are second most in the U.S. behind Texas.

Why?

In 1800, Georgia had 24 counties. As the state grew, so did the number of counties.

“Counties were created not to be so large that the citizens could not reach the county seat within a reasonable one day round trip,” Harry Hayes, Senior Public Service Associate with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government said.

There were political implications.

Until 1962, Georgia used the County Unit System to choose many elected officials. The system gave more political muscle to urban counties, so it benefited rural Georgia to create more counties and therefore more muscle.

“Another rural county, that’s two more rural votes there, off-set those interests in Atlanta,” Charles Bullock, Political Science Professor at the University of Georgia explained.

In 1945, the Georgia Constitution capped the number of counties at 159.

Some are quite small. Taliaferro County has a population of about sixteen-hundred people.

“There’s occasionally talk about consolidating counties, but it never gets very far because the hometown folks are saying we want to keep our separate identity,” Bullock went on to say.

What may seem like an excessive number of counties isn’t so much when you consider some states are loaded with special purpose districts that are an added form of government.

When you look at the number of counties per capita, Georgia’s not in the top ten.

Two states are divided into counties, but in Connecticut and Rhode Island counties have no governmental function.