Voters can choose between a two-term incumbent and an outsider with experience in real estate when they pick a leader for the Stanislaus County clerk-recorder's office in June.
That office manages elections and vital records from birth to death certificates, with property records and marriage licenses in between.
Running for the four-year term are incumbent Lee Lundrigan and Terry Harwell, a longtime title insurance provider.
Lundrigan was first elected in 2002, defeating Oakdale City Councilman Bob Deklinski. Lundrigan won again in a rematch four years later.
The clerk oversees a $3.5 million budget with about 40 employees. The clerk-recorder salary is $115,500 a year.
Harwell says his experience providing title insurance for residential, commercial and agricultural clients can help improve the recorder's office.
"I worked daily with clerk-recorders offices in different counties," said Harwell, who has never before run for public office. "I come from the customer side of the counter. I've seen a lot of good and a lot of bad. I've seen what the customer needs and how to improve customer service."
He's also managed large staffs and budgets, most recently as senior vice president of Alliance Title in the valley, where he said he oversaw 16 offices, 240 employees and a $20 million budget. The company closed in December 2007, a victim of the real estate downturn.
If elected, Harwell said, he'll spend some of a $5.3 million modernization fund to improve the recorder's office. He wants to upgrade the software and digitize more public records.
Harwell thinks Stanislaus County has too many registered voters on the rolls who may no longer live here. His first goal is to perform a residency confirmation to reduce glitches that send multiple ballots to some voters and to eliminate voter fraud.
Although the campaign has been civil, some in Harwell's camp contend it's a conflict of interest for Lundrigan to continue supervising the election department while she's a candidate.
Lundrigan said the conflict of interest allegation comes up every election and that she'll keep the election process open to the public. She added that the county civil grand jury has observed the ballot-counting procedure without any concerns, and she will invite jurors to watch this year.
As for Harwell's goal of checking accuracy of voter rolls, Lundrigan said the election office does that regularly.
With a career as a public and private attorney, Lundrigan said she's best suited for clerk-recorder. After she was elected in 2002, Lundrigan said, she helped clean up an election office grappling with the failed 2001 Modesto City Council runoff election.
She's streamlined many processes, including obtaining a passport. She said she's also worked to protect residents' identity by redacting parts of people's Social Security numbers on documents.
The election and recorder's offices also have digitized many documents and restored historical documents, Lundrigan said. If re-elected, she hopes to continue those improvements.
Lundrigan said she originally ran for clerk-recorder to get involved in democracy. "I'm interested in making sure things are handled properly and I wanted to be involved in law," she said.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.