Civics Today: What’s up with the county clerk? 

Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess 

The office of the county clerk is a position that does not get much attention save for a few instances, tax appeal boards, storing or requesting records, acquiring a variety of licenses and when we all as Americans perform our civic duty through voting. 

The Marion County clerk’s job is to provide access to property records, increase public trust and confidence by conducting fair and open elections as well as working continuously to improve the level of services through collaboration, innovation and competence, according to the Marion County Clerk’s website

Taken together, these duties signify the clerk’s office as not only a governmental organization that needs to uphold a strict ethical mandate, but must also be responsive and transparent to the citizens it serves. 

The Clerk’s office is responsible for a variety of tasks, namely, administrative services such as managing the departments for purchasing, budgets, revenue forecasts, as well as taking part in legislative activity and maintaining the journal of the Marion County Board of Commissioners. 

The office also manages public records and record requests, issues licenses such as for marriage, managing elections as well as managing a tax appeal board for property owners. 

Each section of the clerk’s office operates under the purview of the clerk, for Marion County that is Bill Burgess, though each partition has its own employees and deputy leaders, such as Joanne Lepley, the deputy elections clerk. 

The first section of the clerk’s office deals with the administrative aspect of the office and covers a variety of important responsibilities, such as the Department of Economic and Revenue Forecasting, which deals with providing information to planners and policy makers in state agencies and private organizations for use in their business decision-making processes. 

The office is also tasked with maintaining and cataloging an up-to-date journal of meetings and legislative actions taken by Marion County commissioners in order to ensure meetings that occur are kept for public record. 

Record-keeping and public records requests are another critical task for the clerk’s office and are perhaps one of its most important functions. 

With a team of about six specialists, the clerk’s office receives, reviews, records and sends back hundreds of official legal documents each day. 

Documents are reviewed by multiple team members including a trained lawyer who verifies that each document withstands legal scrutiny. Records are then tagged, scanned into a document management system and then sent back to the documents original owner. 

Record-keeping serves as a way to not only maintain a reviewable log of what has happened but can also be an interesting window into the past when reviewing some documents dating back as far as the 1850s, when Oregon was still officially a territory. 

The office is responsible for also maintaining and distributing various licenses, such as marriage licenses for those interested in joining their lives together as well as passports. 

They also maintain records of business licenses, liquor licenses and a variety of other types of credentialing important for both governmental and private organizations. 

Another interesting highlight of what the clerk’s office does revolves around their management of a board of tax appeals. 

This board, composed of real-estate professionals not employed by the county, sits and hears the petitions from property owners who disagree with their properties tax valuation and want to petition for a different valuation. 

The most well-known job undertaken by the clerk’s office, however, is managing the elections held within the county. 

The clerk’s office handles dozens of elections at a time, making the system they use, one that has garnered acclaim for its accuracy and speed nationally, an important one. 

With two rounds of elections coming this year, one in May and the next in November, the elections section has their work cut out for them. Areas of the county are divided by area (for example Salem is divided into wards) that all require candidates to run for both local, state and federal elections. 

Oregon uses a universal mail-in ballot system, one of the most reliable in the country with a recent report made by Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade stating that, “the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office found from 2000-2019 there were approximately 61 million ballots cast. Of those, 38 criminal convictions of voter fraud were obtained which amounts to a .00006% rate.” 

The process is so secure, in part from the hard work of election staff and workers, as well as through the numerous steps ballots must go through to be officially “counted.” 

Initially, ballots are sent out based on a voter registry which, in Oregon, is primarily gathered from DMV ID records as when Oregonians get or renew their license they are able to be automatically registered to vote. 

The process for ballot counting starts with them being separated based on where they came from and sent through a device that reads signatures on each ballot and compares them to recorded signatures. If it does not match, these ballots are set aside for more scrutiny. 

Ballots whose signatures match are put through then the ballot and envelope are separated so as to ensure identities of voters are protected. 

Ballots are again inspected by election workers by hand then, after being checked for issues or inconsistencies, are brought to another locked and camera-monitored area to be scanned into a digital system. 

“The scanners used are not, nor have ever been connected to the internet, but instead operate as a closed circuit with the other scanners in the room,” current Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said. 

Once scanned, counted ballots are kept in yet another secured room where, after counting takes place, random audits, or recounts, of votes will be done to ensure accuracy. 

For those interested in seeing the ballot counting process firsthand, check out the video on the clerk’s website that guides listeners through it. 

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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