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What to know about the Orange County Register of Deeds primary race in May

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Penny Rich and Mark Chilton are candidates for Orange County register of deeds. Photos courtesy of Rich and Chilton.

Results for the Orange County register of deeds primary elections will be announced May 17. 

Mark Chilton, who currently serves in the role, will face opponent Penny Rich. Without a Republican challenger for the general election, the winner is set to hold the upcoming four-year term, which will begin in 2022. 

The register of deeds is responsible for recording and gathering records of real estate and land parcels, as well as business and personal documents. The office handles a variety of records, such as mortgages, marriage licenses, property deeds and birth certificates. 

Chilton said that, although it sounds like a boring bureaucratic job, it can also be exciting. 

“I derive a lot of joy from helping people find the answers that they're looking for,” he said. 

Rich said she thinks the two most important parts of the job will be customer service to make sure constituents get the help they need, as well as stewardship of deeds and documents for county businesses and residents. 

“This job is really a focus on people,” she said. "It really is a focus on making sure that you are giving people the best customer service you possibly can."

Both candidates have considerable experience in local government. 

Starting in 1991, Chilton served on the Chapel Hill Town Council as the youngest official elected to public office. He then served as Mayor of Carrboro from 2005 to 2013, and was later elected as register of deeds in 2014. He's been in the role ever since. 

Rich has been working in public service since 2001 and has served on the Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors, the Chapel Hill Town Council and on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

Her success as chairperson of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 proves her leadership was effective. 

“People saw this, and they wanted to see if I could translate that leadership into the Register of Deeds office to make this office more responsive, more user-friendly and more convenient,” Rich said. 

If reelected, this will be Chilton’s third term as register of deeds. Over the course of his time in office, he's worked on projects he hopes to continue, such as digitizing Orange County’s pre-Civil War documents and improving the system used to search for documents. 

“We're always trying to think of ways to make our operation more efficient,” Chilton said. “I think that the best way for the register of deeds to serve the people of Orange County — to make sure that we're using as little of the county resources as we can in order to provide a quality service.”

Rich said she is hoping to make records more accessible for constituents. Her campaign is threefold: make the register of deeds office more responsive, convenient and user-friendly. 

She decided to run upon receiving concerns from residents that the website and its interface for finding records can be clumsy and difficult to use, and hopes to update the site if elected. 

“The base of customer service is good technology, updated technology, making sure that folks can use the website and don't stumble,” Rich said. 

Chilton said the current computer and software system is state-of-the-art and has been massively updated from when he was elected as register of deeds in 2014. He said his office is often complimented on their customer service. 

If reelected, he hopes to streamline the process of parcel identification, implement an electronic system for delivering birth and death certificates and, overall, improve office efficiency.

And already, the race is already heating up, with both candidates working hard to earn votes. 

UNC Young Democrats President Megan Wagner said candidates have been doing a good job of making people aware of the election and working on voter outreach. 

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She predicts that it will be a close race. 

“They both have name recognition,” she said. “I’ve seen lots of political signs out for both of them so time will tell.”

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