Riley County clerk’s office is taking additional measures this election year due to coronavirus.
County Clerk Rich Vargo says they expect fewer polling places due to fewer volunteers this year. So far, 51 of their 190 volunteers have said they will not be helping this year due to coronavirus concerns. He doesn’t anticipate that number to get any lower, but is optimistic some may change their mind.
Vargo says the changes they are making are to ensure the highest possible turnout rate of voters. The office will be sending out mail ballot applications for both the primary and general elections. Vargo says he has seen an increase in demand for mail in ballots over the past several years.
In in the 2016 presidential election, which had a had a 65% voter turnout, the clerk’s office received 1,304 ballots by mail. In the 2018 State Election, which had a 56% voter turnout, they received 3,272 ballots by mail.
Vargo says the significance of that data is that in 2018, they sent out applications to voters. This shows that if the opportunity is presented to the people, they will take advantage of it. Vargo hopes encouraging advanced voting will reduce the number of people at the physical polls.
With the increase of mail ballots, Vargo will be bringing in more volunteers to help process the increase volume of applications. Vargo says in 2018, they had their regular number of staff and volunteers and were overwhelmed.
The secretary of state has made the decision to proceed as normal with polling places. However, Vargo has heard concerns from both volunteers and votes. While he disagrees with the secretary’s decision, his staff are doing what they can to keep the polling places safe and secure.
“Voters and poll workers should not have to choose between their health and their civic duty,” says Vargo.
Along with these changes, Vargo’s office has also procured over $1,000 worth of hand sanitizer for the polling locations.
All of these additional meaures will cost an around $80,000 for now.