Vargo says future of vote counting is up for debate

By Brady Bauman

Riley County Clerk Rich Vargo told county commissioners Thursday morning the future of the way votes are counted in elections is up in the air, with neither the state nor the federal government sure which direction to go.

Vargo said this while giving his 2015 budget presentation on behalf of his office.

“I do not know, and no one knows nationally, what’s going to be the next recommended jump in election systems technology,” he said. “The reason we went electronic with the Help America Vote Act in 2002 was because the federal government said it needed to be some kind of computerized electronic voting system. That was a mandate. Since then, now people are saying, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can trust it, maybe we need to go back to paper.’

“But no one has made the decision which way we’re going.”

The Help America Vote Act was largely a reaction to the controversy that surrounded the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which went weeks without a clear winner because of unclear results from the state of Florida, where the “hanging chads” of the state’s paper voting system were the subject of national news and mockery.

Today, however, the growing mistrust of government has led to a mistrust of electronic voting, which critics argue can more easily be manipulated.

The lack of direction from both state and federal election officials on how to react to that mistrust has made it difficult for counties to budget future elections. Recently, however, Riley County did purchase iPads for polling volunteers who help sign in voters, and Vargo said those volunteers — who initially were not the most tech-savvy in some cases — have enjoyed the training.

“They were volunteers who were still using flip-phones,” he said. “But they’ve been learning (the iPads) and love them.”

Still, when it comes to the actual act of voting and how people will do it, there’s little organization on how to prepare in the future.

“(Our) machines are getting to the end of their useful life, and it has put us in a conundrum that no one is making those decisions (of what system to use next),” Vargo said. “The state will tell us, ‘We don’t know, here’s what we think might happen,’ and the feds say that as well.”

Chairman Bob Boyd asked Vargo what resources for answers are available at the federal level.

“At the national level it’s really in disarray,” Vargo answered. “I think it’s going to be just a matter of various states getting together and saying, ‘Hey, here’s the best technology, here’s what we seem to trust and what people seem to trust, so we’ll go this way.

“I think we’ll eventually get back to some paper system, but I don’t know.”

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