By CRISTINA JANNEY
Donna Maskus, Ellis County Clerk, is retiring after two terms as clerk and working in the clerk's office since 1979.
Maskus, who worked under three previous county clerks, will finish out her term. Bobbi Dreiling, Maskus' deputy clerk, was elected as clerk in November and will take office in January.
"It's been a marvelous ride as Ellis County Clerk and working in the office, because we have gotten to work with so many in the community and also the state county clerk's association," she said.
Maskus didn't think she would ever run for elected office despite her many years of service for the county. However, she said she received encouragement from the previous county clerks she worked under to run for the position.
"It's been grand," she said. "I enjoyed all bits of it."
The most visible and possibly the most challenging aspect of the county clerk's job is as an election official.
Maskus recalled one election night when she was working under Ellis County Clerk Emery Rome. One polling location did not bring their results back to the clerk's office until 5 a.m. At that time, votes were counted at the polling locations.
"So we had to come back the next morning and report by 8 a.m. and work a full day," Maskus said. "I thought that was quite something because we patiently awaited [the returns]. Everyone wants to know the results even though they are unofficial."
Despite that one long night, Maskus said she has enjoyed working with the many election workers over the years.
"Election board workers are marvelous," she said. "They're hard workers. You can count on them and they have always done an outstanding job running our elections when it comes Election Day. You can't be at every poll site."
In 2018, the office handled a recount for the 111th district Kansas House race between Barb Wasinger and Eber Phelps.
Wasinger won the election by 35 votes and went on this November to earn a second term in the Kansas Legislature.
"We try to be extra cautious in the office," Maskus said. "Things can still happen, but you deal with them and do the right thing and move forward."
Maskus said she feels very supported by the Ellis County community, the Kansas Secretary of State's office and her fellow county clerks, adding that Ellis County has been a great place to work.
Election laws and processes have changed during Maskus' tenure in the clerk's office. School board and city elections have moved from the spring to the fall. The county used new election machines for the first time in a presidential race this election cycle.
Maskus also faced running an election during a pandemic. The county clerk's office used federal CARES Act funds to place ballot return boxes at the Ellis County Administration Building, as well as in Ellis and Victoria.
Although Maskus was not infected, multiple workers in the office contracted COVID right after the November election, which is still a busy time for the office.
The clerk's office is responsible for providing information to the county canvas board, so the official election results can be certified and reported to the state.
More than half of the staff was out, and the office was closed for a period of time.
"I really said my prayers before the election, because I didn't want anyone from Election Day to come down with COVID at all," she said. "We do everything we can. It is a circumstance we are all dealing with."
Despite the challenges, Maskus said, "Working elections has been fun. You get to hand out the unofficial results on election night."
Maskus also said she has really enjoyed all the people she has met during her time in public service. People who advance vote in person at the clerk's office tell her about why the election and voting is personally important to them.
"People get excited to be a part of elections, and I think that's grand," Maskus said. "I think Kansas does a good job of conducting elections."
Maskus has worked with many county commissioners during her time at the county and said she has enjoyed working with those officials. Maskus lost count of the many minute meetings she typed for the commission.
The clerk's office provides other community services. Another of the more visible functions is serving as a passport agent.
"It still amazes me to this day the number of people who travel," she said. "It is a great opportunity for people. We see all ages."
Maskus said the clerk's office offers "kindly services." It doesn't collect taxes or fines like other county offices.
"We get to do the fun jobs in the county," she said.
Maskus has also been very active in 4-H. She was a 4-Her when she was a child. She continues to lead a 4-H group and served as adult volunteer officer. She's a regular at the fairgrounds during fair time.
In her retirement, Maskus, 66, hopes to spend more time with her parents who still live on the family farm, as well as her sisters and sons.
Corrected, 11 a.m. Saturday to clarify Maskus' term of service. Hays Post apologizes for the error.