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In contrast to centrally organised states, in the federally constituted Switzerland each canton is completely free to decide its own internal organisation. Therefore, there exists a variety of structures and terminology for the subnational entities between canton and municipality, loosely termed districts (i.e. Urban Administration Districts).
Most cantons are divided into Bezirke (German for districts, singular Bezirk). They are also termed Ämter (Lucerne, singular Amt), Amtsbezirke (Bern, Amtsbezirk), district (in French) or distretto (Ticino and part of Graubünden). The Bezirke generally provide only administration and court organization. However, for historical reasons districts in cantons Graubünden and Schwyz are their own legal entities with jurisdiction over tax and often have their own Landsgemeinde.
Seven of the 26 cantons – Uri, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Glarus, Zug, Basel-City and Geneva – have always existed without the district level of government. An eighth one, Appenzell Innerrhoden, uses no intermediate level either, but calls its lowest-level subdivisions Bezirke, although they are functionally equivalent to municipalities elsewhere.
A number of further cantons are considering (or have already decided) an abolition of the district level in the future: Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Schaffhausen, Lucerne, St. Gallen, Schwyz in 2006 voted on its abolition, but voted in favour of keeping the division. Bern in 2006 decided a reduction of its 26 districts to five administrative regions. Vaud decided a reduction from 19 to 10 districts. Valais is planning a similar reduction and in Thurgau, a reduction of eight to four districts is under discussion.
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