Outgoing elections head in key Nevada county details threats
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Heading into this year’s midterms, the elections director in the largest county in one of the nation’s most important battleground states had a lot on his mind.
A new Nevada law required every voter to get a mailed ballot, new processes were in effect for counting all those ballots days after Election Day and the public needed to be assured the count would be accurate.
And there was this: breakfast and lunch.
Joe Gloria, the registrar of voters in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, knew he had to figure out how to feed his staff so they wouldn’t have to leave the office as votes were being counted. It was another fallout of the lies surrounding the 2020 presidential election, when former President Donald Trump and his allies made false claims of widespread fraud in Nevada and five other battleground states he lost.
Gloria and his workers were targeted by threats as Nevada, and Clark County in particular, became a hotbed for conspiracy theories stemming from the false claims.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, a month before he is scheduled to step down as Clark County Registrar of Voters, Gloria spoke about the high turnover rates of Nevada election officials, the need for more elections training throughout the state and detailed the threats and harassment he had largely kept quiet about while on the job.
“Over the course of years, I’ve developed, I guess, something of a shell,” he said over Zoom.
Gloria said protesters stood 100 feet (about 30 meters) from his office door, some carrying weapons, as he and his staff were counting the 2020 ballots. He received ominous emails and messages: “We know where you live” and “We know where your family sleeps,” read some of them.
Much of the harassment his staff received depended on how close to the building they could park. The longer the walk to the building, the more likely they would get noticed and harassed, so returning from a lunch break became a frantic experience.
“You’d even come back and find if somebody had purposely taken their space,” Gloria said of the parking lot outside the elections department. “And they were waiting for them for the long walk inside to verbally abuse them.”
To avoid a repeat and reduce his workers’ anxiety, Gloria secured money earlier this year to provide breakfast and lunch for his staff during the election and ballot-counting period so they could avoid walking to and from the parking lot. His office also coordinated with local law enforcement to increase security.
Gloria said his resignation has nothing to do with the threats. Rather, he said it was simply time for him to start a new chapter after 28 years working in the same office.
He detailed his upcoming job as CEO of operations at the National Association of Election Officials, a national voting organization where he plans to provide elections training and advocacy, in part to help with high turnover of election staffs.
During the 2020 election and this year’s midterms, Gloria became the face of Nevada’s lengthy vote-counting process that allows for mailed ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on Election Day and received by an elections office within four days.
The Clark County elections office has been a focal point of attention because so many top races in Nevada are decided by narrow margins -- and the county has about three quarters of Nevada’s registered voters. This year, the race for a U.S. Senate seat wasn’t decided until nearly a week after Election Day, after Clark County had nearly completed processing its late-arriving mailed ballots.
“I’ve always been kind of the calm in the storm and tried to be that way, and that’s the way I tried to train my staff,” Gloria said.
He said his office was fortunate to be supported financially from the county, while acknowledging that not all counties in Nevada can do the same. Most election officials, particularly county clerks in the rural parts of the state, are “underpaid, underappreciated and expected to be knowledgeable in several areas.” That includes marriage licenses, notaries, county records and in some cases, budgeting.
Ten of the state’s 17 counties have had turnover in clerk or voter registrar positions since the 2020 election. Well over half of the elections department within the secretary of state’s office also has turned over in that span, a result of fatigue and better opportunities elsewhere.
Gloria said it will be the responsibility of the incoming secretary of state, Democrat Cisco Aguilar, to find more training opportunities and create a culture of mentorship. He said the state desperately needs more training as mass resignations have taken place across Nevada’s local elections departments.
“It’s an uphill battle that they’ve got at the state level,” Gloria said. “But it’s critical to the future of elections in the state of Nevada.”
One county clerk resigned after two decades when her county commission unanimously called on her to ditch voting machines in favor of a full hand-count — a plan that was modified because of lawsuits after the hiring of a new clerk who had previously denied the results of the 2020 presidential election. Another longtime local election official left because of repeated death threats. Another decided against running for re-election because of the rise of election conspiracists, the new voting laws and a slate of other duties that left her feeling burnt out in a rural office that received little money for adapting to the new demands.
Clark and other county election departments have scrambled to adapt to new voting laws passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature during the pandemic that were since made permanent, particularly a law that has each county send out mail ballots to every registered voter. Just over half of Nevada voters used the mailed ballots this year sending them back through the postal service, returning them via drop boxes or dropping them off at polling stations.
Gloria obtained county money to travel to Colorado and see how different counties adapted to the widespread mail voting there. The county also paid for a new facility to help process and count mail ballots.
Gloria became Clark County registrar in 2013 after 18 years working in various roles across the department. Before coming to Nevada, he worked in New Mexico as a voting machine technician.
He happened upon the career in elections administration by accident. He walked into a county clerk’s office in New Mexico to get a marriage license when the clerk, a friend and neighbor of his, said he was going to need a job after he got married.
“I said ’you’re right,” Gloria recalled. “But let’s get a license today. And I’ll show up on Monday.”
Now seen as a leading elections expert nationally, Gloria will put together training programs for the National Association of Election Officials. He said he would be open to working with Aguilar, who wants to make it a felony to harass or intimidate election workers and who has denounced election conspiracies that have spread across the state.
Gloria said he decided he would step down about a year ago. His position will be filled by Clark County’s board of commissioners.
“I thank goodness that I’m not leaving because I’m frustrated or because anybody forced me out of this office,” he said. “I left because it was my time to go.”
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.