County elections supervisor Jill Van Buren is retiring
For the past 15 years Jill Van Buren has helped elections run smoothly and efficiently in Benton County.
As the county’s elections supervisor, she puts together election pamphlets, answers voters’ questions and helps tally election results.
But the Nov. 6 presidential election was her last — Van Buren is retiring Dec. 31.
It will mark the end of a 25-year career in elections for Van Buren. Before joining the Benton County Elections Department in 1998, she worked for the Linn County Elections Department for 11 years.
“I never thought I’d end up in elections,” Van Buren said. “I had been pretty politically active. But when I took the Linn County job, I had to stop that.”
Throughout the years, elections became Van Buren’s new passion. In fact, she’s worked overseas monitoring elections in Albania, Azerbaijan and Bosnia.
She said that her most memorable election was the 2000 presidential election because of what didn’t happen. In all, she oversaw seven presidential elections.
“That was the first year of vote by mail, so we were expecting a lot of media to come to Oregon,” Van Buren said. “But then there was the Florida controversy and the media never came here.”
Van Buren said that every election has its own personality. She said what she’ll miss most about election season is watching her staff work together to run an election.
“You can work hard and have fun,” Van Buren said. “... I’ve really enjoyed my time here. It has been an honor to serve Benton County.”
But Van Buren is more than just an elections guru. She’s also the unofficial tour guide of the Benton County Courthouse. Her office is located in the basement of the courthouse, 205 N.W. Fifth St.
Ask Van Buren a question about the Benton County Courthouse and she’ll likely know the answer. And she knows a lot of random facts about the building that dates to 1888.
For example, the courthouse didn’t have women’s restrooms until 1920. Van Buren said they were finally added after WWI because women had filled in for men while they were away at war.
She wouldn’t confirm or deny rumors that the courthouse is haunted.
Much as with elections, Van Buren didn’t set out to be a tour guide. She said that people always ask questions when they visit the elections office, so she started offering to show them around the courthouse.
“People always say this place doesn’t look like a courthouse,” Van Buren said. “They think it’s a movie set.”
Giving tours enabled Van Buren to be around and interact with people, which she calls her favorite hobby. She has given tours to everyone from school children to firefighters.
Benton County Clerk James Morales said Van Buren will be missed. The two started working for the county on same day in 1998.
“She is a pleasure to work with,” Morales said. “She’s a great co-worker and friend. I think what makes her so good at her job is how she interacts with people. She’s done a great job building relationships with the parties, Oregon State University, the media.”
Codi Trudell recently was hired to succeed Van Buren. She’s spent the past 10 years as Polk County’s chief elections clerk. She begins her new position Jan. 10.
Morales said that Trudell possesses many of the same qualities as Van Buren, especially her communication skills and ability to connect with people.
As for Van Buren, she said she plans to spend the next year traveling. She said she plans to visit her children in Hawaii next month and then visit friends across the United States. Eventually, she’d like to help monitor more overseas elections.
But don’t expect Van Buren to stray too far from the Benton County Courthouse. After all, there’s plenty of people still wanting to see the landmark.
“I am still planning to give tours of the courthouse,” she said. “I just love this building.”
Raju Woodward can be contacted at 541-758-9626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.