Would You Run as a Candidate for Register of Deeds?

The Register of Deeds does essential work. It’s the office of the county deed recorder (some counties call it the Register and Recorders Office), where vital records are filed. Title transfers and home loans can’t happen without the Register of Deeds.

Have you ever thought about becoming a recorder of deeds?

A Campaign Is an Adventure…

…And running as a Register of Deeds candidate is no exception. If you’re throwing your hat in this ring, you’ll likely thrive on debates, conversations, and interviews. You’ll be keen to accept complex projects, and good at facilitating the creation of workable systems. You’ll get satisfaction from engaging the city or county you serve.

Perhaps your state has an association of deed recorders’ offices, and you’d like your county to play a more active role. Perhaps you have experience working in real estate, or for a township or county, and want to bring your skills into the deed recording sphere.

What skills will you need? It’s helpful to have experience and interest in computer technology, communications, office management, and public relations. Research skills are important, as the work involves looking up information on film and computer systems daily.

If you are passionate about fostering a real human connection with the public rather than an off-putting bureaucracy, and if you feel good about educating others and constantly learning, you might be the right person for the office.

How a Candidate Gets Into the Race

A candidate typically creates a social media presence and a website displaying endorsements of locally influential people. For example, here is the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds (now incumbent) who received the mayor’s endorsement, as well as the support of numerous other Registers of Deeds, community groups, and political figures. (At first, this official was appointed, not elected. In 2019, Wisconsin’s governor selected Israel Ramón as the Register of Deeds, after the Office was raided by the FBI for alleged wire fraud by the previous Office holder. Ramón successfully faced a challenge in the Democratic primary for Milwaukee County Register of Deeds in 2020, and kept the post.)

When you first file your candidacy with the county clerk, there is no need to state your philosophy, goals, and ideas. The starting point is just declaring your intent to run for the office. There will usually be a fee to run, and a short form to complete. You’ll state your name and address and the party you’re registered with, and that you are running for the Register of Deeds office.

If you decide to drop out before the primary, you’ll need to withdraw by a specific date. If you decide to get into the race after the primary, you may become a write-in candidate by filing an affidavit.

If you are running against someone who already holds the office, it will be a harder to win. Incumbents already have name recognition and have developed a network of support and collaboration.

To learn about the fees and deadlines, check your Secretary of State’s website. Look for the “Elections” webpage.

A Day in the Life of the Register of Deeds

The Register of Deeds is responsible for safeguarding the records filed in the county today, and the records dating back through the centuries. These documents are critical to those who live and do business in the county. At some point or another, they’re needed by lawyers, judges, lenders, title experts, real estate agents, appraisers, historians, genealogists, credit bureaus, county and municipal administrators, or the public.

The Register of Deeds files records for important milestones such as births and adoptions, marriages, deaths, and house title transfers. Other real estate documents recorded in the office are quitclaims and warranty deeds, estate administrators’ deeds, leases and security agreements, easements, judgments, sheriff’s deeds, liens, tax deeds, subdivision and survey documents, master deeds for condos and associations, and a variety of formal instruments related to mortgages.

The Register of Deeds approves subdivisions in the county, and works with other county and township officials on zoning. The Register collects fees, prepares budgets, maintains payrolls and employment records, and enforces state recording laws — which means drafting and handling a lot of reports.   

The Register must examine documents coming in from lenders, title companies, lawyers, and members of the public. The employees in the Office of the Register of Deeds check information and images; enter the names written on the deeds into the system; and note the amount paid for each transaction. They record the properties’ legal descriptions. They cross-reference other documents related to the transaction at hand. Each new instrument needs to be carefully scanned, recorded, and permanently stored. The documents then have to be numbered, dated, and time-stamped, with the proper filing fees and transfer taxes collected as applicable. It’s the Office of the Register of Deeds that checks that the filing isn’t subject to exemptions from transfer taxes, too.

Original paperwork has to be mailed back to the senders or appropriate recipients. When people fail to submit their documents according to the proper procedures, those people must be notified. Their documents must be returned to them for corrections.

These are just some of the tasks carried out daily in the Office of the Register of Deeds. The staff also helps walk-in customers with their requests for forms and physical or digital documents. Staff members field questions about where customers can seek further help related to their filings. Sometimes, staff members show customers how to use data systems and how to fill in their deed forms.

What Makes a Good Candidate

Candidates may need to live in the county where they’re running for office. Additionally, they should be registered to vote in the state. But they don’t need to have been born in the county — or even in the United States — to run for the local Register of Deeds office.

Graduation from high school is generally the basic education requirement, along with further coursework in data processing. The ability to retrieve and sort data on a computer is an essential skill for the work.

It’s helpful to have a college degree, though not necessary. An advanced degree related to business or law isn’t required either, but would be especially valuable. A real estate background, title expertise, or experience in other local offices are exceptionally relevant.

The average salary for a Recorder of Deeds is $52,522 a year as of May 2022, according to Glassdoor.com.

For particular qualifications of a given position, check the announcements on Indeed.com, GovernmentJobs.com, or your Secretary of State’s website. Your local (county or city) government’s website might also announce openings with job descriptions and the qualifications candidates need.

Starting a Campaign Is a Straightforward Process

Once you start your candidacy, you’ll be in the public eye. You may be asked everything from your views on recording the documentation for a same-sex marriage to your weekend hobbies. People will want to know your views on racial equity and technological innovation. Your general knowledge and your integrity will be tested.

If you’re keen to serve the public, if you would enjoy being the custodian of your county’s history, and if you a dedicated to honesty, transparency, and principled leadership, this is an excellent office to seek. The very best to you on your campaign!

Supporting References

Christopher Borro for the Scottsbluff [Nebraska] Star-Herald Online: How to Run for Office (Feb 5, 2022).

Dale Edwards for the News of Orange County [North Carolina]: Meet the Candidate – Former Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich Is Running for Register of Deeds; Rich Wants to Elevate Register of Deeds Office (updated Apr. 7, 2022).

Iosco County, Michigan: Register of Deeds Duties.

BallotPedia: Israel Ramón, Milwaukee County Register of Deeds in Wisconsin

Website of Israel Ramón: Supporters.

And as linked.

Photo credits: Democracy Chronicles, via public domain; and Sora Shimazaki, via Pexels.