Upcoming general election keeps longtime county clerk busy

County Clerk Rich Vargo was elected to his position in 1996. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

In 1996, Rich Vargo was elected county clerk. He’s held it ever since.

Vargo described his job as hectic, especially with this year’s general election coming up.

“The part people don’t realize is that we do all the payroll for the entire county, we do all the human resources for the entire county and we’re responsible for the tax roll,” Vargo said. “You name it, we do it.”

With the general election on Nov. 3, Vargo is extremely busy, and he said the pandemic contributes to his crazy schedule.

“COVID-19 has quadrupled our workload,” Vargo said. “With so much emphasis on voting by mail, it’s like doing two elections at one time. We still have to have polling places opened, and plus, we’ll be sending out over 10,000 ballots by mail.”

Though voting by mail is taking place in larger numbers this election than in years past, Vargo said the concept is nothing new, and voters don’t need to worry about their ballots being tampered with.

“Ballot by mail is not new in the state of Kansas. It’s been around for serval decades,” Vargo said. “Everything gets amped up around presidential elections because of the emphasis on [it]. Then, you hear things in the national media and figures making comments about mail ballots.”

Vargo said the county clerk’s office follows strict guidlines to ensure no tampering occurs. The signature from each voter registration form is compared to the mail-in ballot to ensure those voting are who they claim to be, he said.

“We give people the opportunity to update their signature … and if they don’t match, we send them a card if the addresses match and ask the person to update their voter registration signature,” Vargo said. “If it comes back and matches, then it’s valid.”

Processing mail-in ballots takes time. The county clerk’s office picks up mail twice during the day in order to process ballots in a “more efficient manner,” Vargo said.

“I can only speak for Riley [County], but I feel the same way for the entire state of Kansas that we have no concerns for mail ballots,” he said.

County Commissioner Ron Wells said working with Vargo the past eight years has been a positive experience.

“I like [Vargo’s] work ethic,” Wells said. “I like what he does when he’s not at work. He lives in a rural county, he burns wood for heat in the winter, he has crop land and he’s a deer hunter. He’s just a well-rounded person who loves life.”

Elected to the county commission in 2012, Wells didn’t know much about Vargo’s work before meeting him.

“He’s gone way beyond what I thought a county clerk does,” Wells said. “To me, I think he’s a very valuable person, and I’ve been impressed with how much knowledge he has about the total operation of a county.”

Wells said much of Riley County’s success in Kansas can be attributed to Vargo.

“Riley County is one of our top ranked counties in Kansas, and that’s thanks to the county clerk, county treasurer and the county appraiser,” Wells said. “They are looked up to by many of the counties in the state of Kansas.”

Deputy clerk and elections supervisor Susan Boller said she had nothing negative to say about Vargo as a clerk and individual.

“As a person, he’s a great community contributor and kind person,” Boller said. “As a colleague, the things I appreciate about him is that he leads by example, he articulates what the expectation is and it’s equal for everyone that works for him. He gives you the resources to be successful, and he’s supportive and there every step of the way.”

The last day to register to vote was Oct. 13, but Vargo stressed how important it is to use your voice by voting. As soon as people make up their mind as to who they want to vote for, Vargo said they should cast their ballots in advance.

“The reason I encourage that is because in Kansas, you never know what the weather’s going to be like, so don’t procrastinate,” Vargo said. “I encourage people to not wait until Election Day on Nov. 3, but go out and vote.”