‘I Just Tried to Stay Focused’
Departing Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria reflects on the wild ride since 2020
Since 2020, nearly half of Nevada's 17 county registrars and clerks who oversee the state's elections have quit. Some said they faced threats and harassment from those who believe the 2020 election was fraudulent and the voting system corrupt. Others cited frustration over interference from elected officials. One of those election officials, Joe Gloria, recently announced he is leaving his post as the Clark County Registrar to take a job as co-CEO of the Election Center. This is a nonpartisan group that conducts election research, hosts educational conferences, and trains election officials. Gloria recently spoke with Joe Schoenmann of KNPR’s State of Nevada about his time in the registrar's office, how elections have changed, and what's needed to restore faith in the voting process. An edited version of the conversation follows.
Your first election was in 1996. What was the biggest issue or problem you worried about back then?
They were much simpler issues. That was my first major election in Nevada. I worked in New Mexico in 1992, but in 1996 we implemented a new electronic voting system. So, there were issues with making sure that we were properly maintaining and preparing that equipment to use in elections. We were working to ensure that the general public had confidence in the new system, because we were going from a punch card used here for several years in Clark County to a new computer system. So, there was a lot of outreach and a lot of work to make sure that voters were comfortable with the new system and that we had everything in place to support it properly.
Elections are massive undertakings for you and your office. Could you walk me through that process?
Things have been unique in Clark County over the past six to seven years. An election department gets into a different mode when you're implementing new systems or if there's a major change from the legislature, such as implementing all mail ballots. So basically, since 2016, that's what my office has been doing. We brought in a new voting system. We brought in a new poll book to vote and use at vote centers. Then after the pandemic, we were forced to go all mail-in in a very short period of time. So, that has taken up the majority of our efforts.
We also have to take care that we're looking at our processes in between elections and doing everything we can to make things better. From election to election, (we're) making sure that our staff is properly trained, we're looking at polling places, and (ensuring) that our early voting program stays in place.
You gained national notoriety in 2020 when, during an update on election results, a man came up behind you wearing a t-shirt that read "BBQ, Beers and Freedom" and yelling that the election was stolen. What was that moment like for you?
That was definitely a unique time for me. It resulted in a whole lot of attention that we certainly weren't looking for.
I think the response from that gentleman there ... I've always been involved with dealing with troubled situations here at the election department, and I spent several years on the hotline. So, it takes quite a bit to get me riled, so to speak, and he didn't appear to be threatening. I also had (fellow Clark County employee) Dan Kulin there watching out for me. It put us on a map down here.
During that election, it took several days to get results. Memes were all over the internet, cracking jokes about how long it was taking here. What were you thinking?
While that was going on, I just tried to stay focused and stay the course with the reality of what we were dealing with. We just couldn't get support from folks who knew better, including people at the legislative level, the media, and local politicians, who knew the law and what had been implemented. I couldn't move faster even if I wanted to, and a lot of folks weren't taking it into consideration. We turned what was, normally, an in-person voting county, and completely flipped that by sending mail ballots to all voters. That was a huge undertaking for my staff.
I've said it many times, (my staff) should have been celebrated for coming through in a very stressful time and implementing that system. (That's) along with in-person voting that we also used in the general. We had to deal with the mess, disinformation, and criticism from several groups, but they did an excellent job.
There are moves all over the country to change some election laws. According to Gallup, most Americans, for instance, support some form of voter ID. Would asking for an ID create issues for poll workers? Would it slow things down?
Well, it depends on how (the law) is written. That is what I've always focused on when working with the legislature. We're administrators. We don't set policy. What we try to do is let (policymakers) know what we need them to do to administer those changes. In my opinion, it would depend on whether they were allowing alternatives to the Nevada driver's license and what those alternatives would be. That would directly impact how we handle the voter that shows up without an ID. As far as the system we use (goes), it should not slow down the process.
Tell me about this new opportunity with the Election Center? What are you going to be doing?
Well, it's an outstanding opportunity for me to take the years of experience I've gotten and put it to use with election officials who come to train through the Election Center. It's an outstanding organization that's been around for 37 years. I'm going to be involved with logistics in setting up conferences that go all over the country ,as well as training and some legislative lobbying at the federal and state levels. So, I can't think of a better opportunity to share what I've learned over the past 30 years with election officials across the country. I'm very excited.
Is there one thing you want to get across to election officials through this work?
I think the main focus, at least in my eyes, is that they can't get frustrated with the situation that we're dealing with. It's important that you're transparent in what you're doing and doing the best you can to communicate to the voters and give them the opportunity to learn exactly what happens behind the doors here. In my opinion, we did an outstanding job of enhancing observer opportunities. We made certain processes available to the general public that weren't required. We proactively did that. I want to try to communicate to all jurisdictions that the more open you are with your processes, (the more) those willing to listen and truly willing to learn what's going on will appreciate that. That's important.