By John L. Braese
VALE – Malheur County Clerk Deborah Delong has announced her retirement from the position effective August 1.
Deborah Delong was appointed to county clerk in January 1985 after Bob Marcum announced his retirement mid term.
At the time, hand ballots from more than 200 precincts scattered across the county were hauled to the office on election night and hand counted.
Now, ballots that are more often returned by mail are counted by machine.
“I have seen a lot of changes,” said Delong as flower bouquets congratulating her announcement were delivered to the office.
Delong started with the county in 1972 as a road cost clerk. From there, she took the position of deputy auditor until she was picked by the county court to be clerk.
“I received word today that I am the longest serving county clerk in the state,” she said, reading an email from a clerk friend on the other side of the state.
Looking back over 32 years, Delong recalls two elections.
Her first primary contest, in 1986, was a switch over from hand counting to machines.
“We had received some machines from a vendor to try out,” she recalls. “I saw all those chads hanging and the machines having problems reading the ballots due to the chads. We didn’t buy them.”
That hanging chad issue 14 years later would figure prominently in the election of George W. Bush.
Technology also plays a part in another election nightmare etched in Delong’s memory.
The county had purchased four Eagle scanners to read the bubbles on ballots.
As the night progressed, one by one, each scanner shut down. Late in the evening, only one scanner remained functional.
“A tech was driving by around 3 a.m. coming back from Harney County and saw the lights were still on,” said Delong. “He came to the door and asked what was going on. With him babying the machine, we made it.”
Voting by mail also remains on Delong’s memory.
“It was a little controversial,” Delong recalled.
“The Legislature tried to pass it for years. Finally, it was placed on the ballot for voters and passed overwhelmingly. The County Court received letters urging me not to do it even after it passed.”
According to Delong, the mail ballot has saved the county money.
“When voters went to polling places, we had to ensure each precinct had 100 percent of ballots there,” she said. “As time went by, more and more people were requesting absentee ballots, but we still had to make sure their ballots were also at the polling place. We used to have a line going out the door of the office of people requesting absentee ballots because elections were during hunting season.”
In addition to elections, the clerk’s office has also updated in other areas.
“We used to have a typewriter with a carriage about three feet wide,” said Delong. “We are now at the point where deeds going all the back to the 1920s are digitized.”
Delong has no big plans come Aug. 1, retirement day. She also leaves an office with the same staff numbers as the day she walked in.
“I have no regrets,” said Delong. “I loved my job. It is what I supposed to do in life. I just need to do another part of my life at this time.”
With 18 nieces and nephews busy and active, Delong said she would not be bored.
“I have had a passport for years,” she said. “It has never been anywhere and has no stamps in it. That is something I would like to change.”
As Delong’s retirement occurs midterm, the Malheur County Court will name a successor after an announcement of the position is posted.
Have a news tip? Contact reporter John L. Braese at 541-473-3377 or [email protected].