I’d like to throw an idea in the hopper, while we’re all on this subject: How about we make the job of running elections a non-partisan gig?
At this moment, the person in charge of counting ballots in Riley County — and every other county in the state — is the elected county clerk. Rich Vargo, the current office-holder, has been doing the job for many years, and — before I go any further — there’s never been a whiff of scandal about the way he has administered elections.
Likewise, at the state level, there’s been no evidence of a problem, despite the fact that the person in charge of elections is himself elected in a partisan contest. That’s the Secretary of State; the person holding that office at the moment is Scott Schwab. As you would guess in Kansas, both he and Mr. Vargo are Republicans. (And to be clear, Mr. Schwab has stated publicly that there’s no evidence of problems in the election this year.)
As you’re reading this, Mr. Vargo’s employees are determining whether certain ballots count or not. They have to make that judgment on oddball cases — provisional ballots, cast by people whose registration status is in question, or who might have requested a mail ballot but voted in person, and so forth. There are also ballots with coffee stains, torn ballots, and so on. The total to be reviewed is about 1,400; it all has to get done by next week.
There are more of these issues this year than ever because of the pandemic and the large volume of mail ballots as a result.
In Riley County, the determination of which of those ballots count will ultimately determine who is elected to the County Commission, because the race between John Matta and Kathryn Focke hangs in the balance. The last vote count we knew had Matta ahead by three.
Here’s the thing: The public has to trust the process completely. We have to trust that the ballots will be counted fairly and accurately.
When the people doing the counting answer to a person who’s loyal to one party or another, it taints the whole thing just a little. Again, I assume (since I have no contrary evidence) that the employees in Mr. Vargo’s office are operating under procedures and ethical standards that are reasonable. But there’s a perception problem; if I were a Democrat and the whole thing came down to a single vote, I might be a little suspicious.
The same thing is true at the state level, and — by extension, since it’s nothing more than a collection of state races — the presidency. I don’t care if it’s Republicans or Democrats with their hands on the tiller in any one state. The point is that their loyalty should be only to the voters themselves.
You might ask: Can you have an election without political parties getting involved? Yes. We do that every couple of years for city commissions and school boards.
It can be done, and — in the interest of solidifying public confidence in elections — it should be.