Almost everyone living in Jefferson County has probably been to the County Clerk’s Office at some point: it’s where you go to get your car registered.
“Motor vehicle car registrations is probably the face of the county clerk’s office. But we do so much more,” said current Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw. “We record all legal documents such as mortgages, deeds, wills, name changes – you name it, and we record it here.”
Plus, there are much more esoteric functions of the office: like storing both the original deed to the house Muhammad Ali grew up in and the land deed of Daniel Boone’s brother, Squire Boone.
In Jefferson County, the county clerk runs a $20 million budget that includes warehouses that store records going back to the start of Jefferson County. They also collect taxes for driver’s licenses, issues marriage licenses, administer laws and oversee elections. And this last function takes a lot of work, including hiring poll workers, making sure voting machines work, collecting absentee ballots and keeping polling places accessible.
Christie Dutton, the director of public affairs with the Kentucky Association of Counties, said the county clerk plays an important role that’s often overlooked. The county clerk’s office also collects delinquent taxes on motor vehicles and mobile homes, prepares tax bills for people who own property and stores and protects voting machines.
“The county clerk is really the record keeper of the county among other things, but on top of that, they’re also in charge of the primary and general elections for their county,” Dutton said.
The person in charge of all these duties is up for re-election come Nov. 6. Holsclaw, a Republican, is seeking a sixth term in office; she’s been in the position since 1998. Her opponent is Democrat Michael Bowman, a former Metro Council legislative assistant and bank manager, who said his experience working on Jefferson County’s budget, managing a large amount of money and helping people buy homes makes him qualified for the County Clerk position.
“I do manage a bank that has a very large portfolio of loans and deposit accounts,” Bowman said. “Also spending the time I did in the council combing line item by line item through every annual budget, not just for the clerk’s office, but for the city as a whole, we’re looking at an annual budget of $800 million.”
Bowman said he also wants to allow Jefferson County residents to file car registration and other documents online, instead of having to go to a physical location. State law would have to be changed to do this, but he said he would advocate for those changes in Frankfort. He also wants to push the legislature to change state law to allow the general population to vote early across the state.
“You have a lot of disenfranchised segments of our community that don’t on the whole have the ability to show up to a polling place on Election Day within that 12-hour window,” Bowman said. “[I want to] to provide better opportunities for them to be able to exercise their right to vote.”
Holsclaw said she isn’t opposed to extending early voting to the general population. She said during her time in office, she’s upgraded voting machines and pushed to allow absentee voting for people with disabilities, as well as anyone who will be out of the county or in a hospital on Election Day.
She said her management of her office’s budget — which between 1999 and 2015 resulted in her returning more than $9.5 million in excess fee collections to Metro government — is a point in her favor.
“Republicans tend to be fiscally conservative, and I don’t spend the money unless I absolutely have to,” said Holsclaw. “And that’s why I’ve been able to turn back over money to Metro Council.”
In 2012, a state audit found Holsclaw’s office had lax bookkeeping, paid improper employee holiday bonuses and didn’t fully account for funds it raised for charities.
“I hope they [voters] would feel that in my past terms that I’ve always been there to work hard for them,” Holsclaw said. “I hope they’ve seen an improvement at the county clerk’s office every year that I’ve been here.”
Polls on Election Day — the same polls that are overseen by the County Clerk’s Office — are open on Nov. 6 between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.