Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark H. Chilton

Age:  51

Party affiliation:  Democratic Party

Campaign website: 

Occupation & employer: Register of Deeds, Orange County, NC

Years lived in North Carolina:  37 years

1. Please tell us what in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be an effective Register of Deeds? Please be specific. 

My education, experience and record combine to make me a uniquely qualified Register of Deeds.  After graduating from law school and passing the bar in 1997, I practiced real estate law for 17 years.  In that time, I gained a comprehensive and detailed knowledge not just of the specific instruments that are recorded in my office but also how real estate and other transactions are put together.  This granular understanding of both what we do and why we do it has helped me improve all areas of the Register of Deeds functions.  For example, I have upgraded our ROD software and website to allow wider and more efficient access to real estate professionals because, as a real estate professional myself, I was able to anticipate and respond to their needs.

My extensive experience with property transactions has helped me better interact with the Tax Department and also to identify specific instances where real estate or tax fraud may be taking place and to alert the appropriate authorities.  As a trained attorney, I don’t just robotically follow the statutes that apply to the Register of Deeds – I understand their rationale, interpret and apply them in nuanced situations, and even discover ways to adapt and expand them to meet the needs of my constituents.  For example, when we were asked to make certain filings easier on small businesses struggling through COVID, I was able to dive down into the statutes governing authenticated signatures (boring, yes, but also vital) and quickly provide a solution.

Seeing the Register of Deeds office as far more than just a functionary place to record documents means that I’ve been able to organically grow our services consistent with our public mission.  For instance, I have added passport services at the same place where you can pick up a birth certificate and register a married name, as well as a new fraud alert system that will notify you when anyone records a document with your name on it.

Yet, as important as efficient systems, new services and statutory understanding are, they must be implemented by an effective and customer-oriented staff.  Prior to being elected Register of Deeds, I supervised numerous teams of between 5 and 8 people in various non-profit and private sector settings. Together with my role leading town staff as Mayor of Carrboro for 8 years, this experience leading teams enabled me to actually reduce our Register of Deeds staff by 15% but also maintain a scope and standard of service at the highest level by training and developing each individual to their areas of interest, work style and maximum effectiveness.  We regularly garner kudos for our customer service – for instance, in response to our recent Passport Fair where our dedicated staff and I processed applications for 155 people – one application every 3.5 minutes for 9 hours – on a Saturday.  The Register of Deeds staff and I feel a strong sense of camaraderie in our mission that makes going above and beyond a privilege.

Lastly, I have consistently led local governments in Orange County to focus on and support the civil and human rights of our entire community, particularly the rights of LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and people who are in this country without documentation.  I have brought that same approach to the Register of Deeds office.  For example, I’ve partnered with local agencies to help homeless people get birth certificates and other documentation they need to help stabilize their lives. I have also worked to ensure that undocumented immigrants know this office as a safe and welcoming place – both by hiring bilingual staff, and by putting in place procedures which ensure that the special challenges they face in presenting identification are accommodated by our policies.

I have worked hard to ensure that this office is welcoming to people of all languages, faiths, races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations. We routinely have customers who come to Orange County from neighboring counties to apply for their marriage licenses because of the reception that they anticipate getting at their local Register of Deeds office. While it is troubling that they should have to do so, I am proud that they show their faith in the Orange County Register of Deeds office by coming to us. We have even had same-sex couples who traveled here from as far away as West Virginia because they wanted their marriage license process to be a respectful and joyous occasion.  Having held public office since the age of 21 and now as Register of Deeds, my record of welcoming, understanding, serving and supporting our whole community is perhaps my strongest achievement and greatest pride.

2. Describe the extent of your archival knowledge of Orange County’s public records system. 

There isn’t a corner of our archive that I don’t know in detail.  In fact, just thinking of the Register of Deeds as an important historical resource is fairly unusual among my peers.  The most important example is my work with records of enslaved people that have long been hidden in the dusty vault and that form an historical record that many would like to ignore or suppress.  Because these documents are some of the only genealogical sources available to families whose ancestors were enslaved, I made access to them my highest archival priority after taking office in 2014.  I personally transcribed and digitized 18,000 documents and created a novel internship for local students to help build out our online Slave Records database.  The result has been an archive that has deepened the truth-telling about race in Orange County and provided moments of profound emotion as Black and indigenous researchers discover the rich story of their families and communities. Because of our Slave Records Project, I have embedded into the idea of the Register of Deeds that we both serve the present and reveal the past.  Indeed, we’ve come to see what we do at the Register of Deeds office as creating the accurate and accessible historical record that will provide the same kind of wonderful “a-ha” moments for future generations.

Building our online Slave Records archive has also served as a pilot project for UNC Greensboro libraries and the NC Division of Archives and Records, a project that contributed to their successful application for a three-year grant for $294,603 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to expand UNC-G’s Digital Library on American Slavery (DLAS).  More on the collaborative project and Orange County’s contributions to DLAS thus far can be found at the following links:  and

Beyond the Slave Records Project, I have personally catalogued and summarized every deed in this office from the formation of Orange County in 1752 down to the year 1874, by reading through and typing up summaries of 25,000 pages of handwritten records. One of my goals in my third term is to complete this work by continuing from 1874 to the introduction of typewritten records around 1920.  These are helpful research tools, but should not cloud the fact that I have already ensured that every deed and mortgage book in this office (from 1752 to 2022) has been digitized into one massive search engine on the Register of Deeds website, which now displays almost 5 million pages. We have also digitized every birth, death and marriage record in this office and made a comprehensive (and, importantly, easily searchable) database of them. The database is accessible online, though the images are withheld due to privacy and identity theft considerations.

I have also created historical maps of Orange County which show who the original grantees were in the Colonial and Revolutionary eras were and where their land grants were in relation to modern landmarks. I am not aware of any other county in North Carolina that has done this.  You can see the land grant map at the following link:

At the same time, I have paid close attention to the fact that these original land grants went almost exclusively to white men, taken – often with force – from Native Americans, and developed on the backs of enslaved people. I have partnered with Crystal Cavalier and other members of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation to help document the lives and struggles of Native Americans who were colonized and persecuted by European settlers and create maps of indigenous communities in the 1830’s & 1840’s. I have also produced other maps which show the location of African American-owned land prior to the Civil War and recently launched the Free People of Color Project, which will organize and develop research tools specifically on the overlooked (and even suppressed) history of these important groups, both Native American and African-American.

Throughout all this work, I have approached these subjects with considerable sensitivity to the fact that, as a white male, it is not my prerogative to tell these peoples’ stories for them. Instead, I see my role as making the data available to the community, and assisting them in navigating the tremendous volume, so that they can incorporate this information into their efforts to tell the stories of their families and communities in their own voices. Our county includes thousands upon thousands of descendants who can do far more justice to the stories of oppressed people of color than I could ever hope to do.

3. What do you see as the three biggest challenges facing the Register of Deeds’ office? How would you work to mitigate those challenges?

The three biggest challenges that I will continue to address in my third term are (1) the rising rate of real estate and tax fraud; (2) continuous improvements to online access for recording, vital records, and research; and (3) honing our budget and systems to continue to deliver to Orange County’s bottom line in an economically tumultuous time.

In dealing with real estate and tax fraud my office has created a fraud alert system that allows people to search when something has been recorded under their name.  We have ongoing efforts through realtors, real estate attorneys and the media to widely promulgate this among Orange County residents and property owners.  We are also continually in close contact with the Land Records Division of the Orange County Tax Department, real estate attorneys and members of the community to identify and redact sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and bank account records that had been recorded in the past.  Finally, my office and the Tax Department have been in discussions to create a tax verification system for recording deeds which would monitor recordings to determine if property is being conveyed with past due property taxes or in a manner that would avoid proper recording taxes.

Improving online access and increasing efficiency through technology is a continuous process.  For the first time we can email recorded documents to residents who have called our office with questions.  I have streamlined electronic submissions for many non-real estate documents such as memoranda of understanding and assumed name certificates, and have added online ordering for birth death and marriage certificates.  Going forward we plan to work with the Tax Department to do electronic pin assignment allowing more streamlined electronic recording and greatly reducing our offices’ printing costs and waste.  Our office is also working with the Orange County Health Department to implement electronic delivery of birth and death records, allowing families even faster access to these vital records.

The Register of Deeds office is a major contributor to the County’s budget for schools, libraries and other services and our ability to manage and process the enormous volume of complex tasks provides a steady-state line item in what are expected to be post-pandemic economic volatility.    In my third term, I will expand the passport services I instituted to meet growing demand and continue to add other services that meet the needs of our constituents and further contribute to the County’s bottom line.

4. Do you believe the Register of Deeds office is operating at maximum efficiency? If not, what ideas do you have to make it more efficient? 

My office has reduced the physical space it takes up by about 10% and I have voluntarily reduced staff positions in this office by 15% over the last 8 years through retirements, not layoffs. At the same time, I have introduced new services like fraud alert and US passport services, while handling a 75% larger volume of documents than 8 years earlier, and generating 150% greater net revenue returned to the taxpayers (up from $500,000 8 years ago to $1,250,000 last year).  These numbers indicate that we have dialed up the efficiency and yet not sacrificed customer service and the mission to continue to build on the services we provide.  Even during the global pandemic, after taking only a brief time to implement safe practices, the ROD staff and I delivered all our services but passports.  Where NC law required in person appearance, my staff met constituents in the parking lot and deliver oaths through a closed car window.  We quickly expanded how our services could be delivered online and how staff could safely and effectively work from home when ordered to.  COVID set the stage for further growth of online services, but it’s important to note that the technology upgrades I had already implemented made us resilient in the pandemic before we even knew there was going to be one.

We have achieved these dramatic increases in efficiency by implementing a comprehensive overhaul of both our internal software system and our website – in each case on-time and under budget – drawing on the input from stakeholders who actually understand and use our systems.

Despite these remarkable increases in efficiency, I believe that we can further improve. For example, in 1983 the County Commission  adopted a Parcel Identification System for all tracts of land in Orange County.  Far from being “antiquated”, the PIN system was and still is ahead of its time, and Orange County is the only county in the state to use this system which reduces cost, saves enormous amounts of time in real estate closings and ensures accuracy and transparency of tax functions.  Yet how PINs are implemented can be improved, and I’m presently working with the tax department to shift more PIN steps to an electronic format, reduce paper waste by 100,000 pages and speed the PIN labelling process.  Again, these are highly detailed and, to some, boring improvements. But, understanding the benefits of PINs, I am focused on using them to their maximum efficiency.

We are also working with the Orange County Health department to allow for electronic delivery of Birth and Death records.  Currently they are brought over from the health department by courier or hand delivered by individuals and funeral homes who need the certificates immediately.  We hope to have the electronic delivery system ready sometime this spring and expect this to allow us to provide birth and death certificates even more quickly.

6. Do you believe employees in the Register of Deeds office should be permitted to refuse to perform duties on religious grounds? If so, under what circumstances? 


7. Are there any other issues you would like to address that did not appear on this questionnaire? 

My service as Register of Deeds for the past 7 years has accomplished much in terms of service, results and equity that draw from my education and experience, but I have also felt it as a continuation of my long history showing up with energy, enthusiasm, skill and dedication on the front lines of social change.  In my first campaign for Register of Deeds, I risked arrest by promising to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  I was in fact arrested protesting North Carolina’s unjust and anti-democratic legislature and governor during the Moral Monday protests.  Closer to home, I personally intervened in the volatile takeover of a downtown Carrboro building by Occupy Everywhere.  It is not obvious but nonetheless true that the Register of Deeds office can and should likewise be an place of equity, justice and service and I’ve committed myself to that vision from my first day in office.

8 What distinguishes you from the other candidate(s) in this race?

What distinguishes me as a candidate are my 25 years of professional real estate experience, 17 of them as a real estate attorney and 8 as Register of Deeds. I am a proud graduate of NCCU School of Law (Class of 1997, cum laude). I have a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the functions and larger role of the Register of Deeds Office in our County.

But beyond the question of basic qualifications for the office of Register of Deeds, my deep-felt passion for the history and heritage of all of Orange County distinguishes me. My commitment to revealing our true history led me to extensively document Orange County’s ancient records – from records regarding enslaved people, to documents of the lives of single mothers, to our history of indenturing of orphaned children. I have sought out the true stories of the forgotten and overlooked people of our County’s past in order to tell the whole story. We will never get past the wrongs done by our predecessors to the poor, to African-American and to Native American people in Orange County without at the very least acknowledging the true horror of what happened in an accurate, transparent and courageous way.

The Register of Deeds is an important functional office that daily handles a high volume of complex tasks and helps keep our County running smoothly.  But the heartbeat of the Register of Deeds is our place in Orange County’s history – both revealing the past and making our new history every day.  To be able to stand in, speak to and lead from both roles is what makes me an excellent Register of Deeds, and I’m proud and grateful to be able to seek a third term.