"That's when you get the joy out of the job, when you get to help the people. That just brings a lot of joy and satisfaction."
— Nancy Blankenship
At some time or another, most people in Deschutes County end up going to the County Clerk's office to take care of official business. And of course, doing that "official" business in the county may just qualify you for that coveted "local" status.
Regardless of your place of origin, Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship will welcome you like a local when you find your way to her second story office that looks out over the Parkway.
The duties of a county clerk include maintaining county records such as marriage licenses and deeds, and overseeing elections.
"I get to work with some wonderful people in this office," Blankenship says. "They do great work. They are very dedicated and focused on customer service, which is one of our primary goals. The workers out on the front desks love to help people." The office is small enough that she can still be a "working clerk," she says, splitting up duties with Elections Supervisor Barb Hagen.
Blankenship says the job of overseeing elections takes up the biggest chunk of her time, "because we're always preparing," she says. That task includes voter registration and creating ballots and voter pamphlets. Deschutes County is one of the few counties in the state that puts out a voter pamphlet for every election, says Blankenship. The office also just purchased a new ballot tabulation system to replace the old optical scanning method with digital scanning.
Oregon began testing vote by mail in the early 1980s, and in 2000 became the first state in the nation to go to complete voting by mail, according to Blankenship.
"We've had very good success with vote by mail. It's cut down on our expenses, and we're always in the top three to four states in voter turnout," she says.
Also, Deschutes County became the first county in the state, in the late 1990s, to offer free access to real property records online. This helps reduce foot traffic into the office and lets people do their own records research online.
Blankenship is a third generation Oregonian and grew up in Central Oregon. Before being elected county clerk in 2003, she worked for the city of Redmond for 16 years as the city recorder. Her husband of 37 years, Mike, grew up in Bend, and the two live in Redmond with their Yorkshire terrier, Casey.
Blankenship first took office in January 2003, following longtime County Clerk Susie Penhollow. "Luckily, no one ran against me," she quips. Since then, she has been re-elected three times. Her current term expires in January 2019. Blankenship says she still loves the job and plans to run again when the time comes.
"The hard part about this job is that you have to run for office. That's probably my least favorite part of the job," Blankenship says. "The great thing about it, it's always ever-changing and keeps you on your toes." This is because the laws always change, she says. "That's the fun part, always trying to make improvements to benefit the office and the public."
Blankenship has even made house calls to help make sure people get registered to vote. She recalls going to an address in a new apartment complex on the east side of town to make sure the resident was able to vote.
"People really appreciate that help. I just wanted to help the voter. That's when you get the joy out of the job, when you get to help the people. That just brings a lot of joy and satisfaction."
Since August 2016, Blankenship has also been the president of the Oregon Association of County Clerks. She worked herself up through the organization as secretary, treasurer and vice president. "You learn a lot. There's just the extra work to perform those duties," she says, adding that the responsibility brings more work, which she welcomes.
Blankenship says all county residents, no matter how long they've lived here, have a standing invitation to stop in at the clerk's office and observe its workings, especially the closer we get to election time.
"I really think it's important for people to come in and observe," Blankenship says. Various school groups come into the office, "and we encourage them to participate and show them the process. That's the fun thing, to share what we're doing so that people feel comfortable with elections in Deschutes County."