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‘No feeling like that’: Election chief Joe Gloria retiring after 28 years

Updated December 9, 2022 - 10:15 am

Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria still remembers one of the first elections he worked for Clark County.

It was 1996, and the county did not buy enough election equipment to support the number of registered voters, and officials received a lot of heat. It was the first time he worked an election of that scale, with more than 550,000 registered voters in the county. It also rained and was one of the worst storms he saw in his career.

In some ways, that first election was similar to Gloria’s last, which wrapped up last month. Rain and dust discouraged voters from coming out to the polls for the 2022 midterms, and the whole nation was watching as the state’s most populous county — with almost three-quarters of Nevada’s registered voters — counted mail-in ballots throughout the week.

But for his last election, Gloria managed an election department that sent more than a million mail ballots to registered voters, operated more than 100 voting centers, processed more than 650,000 ballots and submitted the results on time.

“There’s nothing like that feeling at the end of election night,” Gloria said. “(There’s) 10,000 things that are out of your control that day, but you had a little piece in planning everything that went on. And when it comes to the end of that day and everything went well and you’re successful in pulling off that election, there’s just no feeling like that.”

After 28 years working for Clark County’s election department, which he helped adapt to the county’s growing population over the years and successfully implement the Nevada Legislature’s election laws that required all registered voters to receive a mail ballot in a closely watched county, Gloria is leaving the position in January.

Gloria will “retire” for a month to take a break and spend time with family before he starts a new position with the Election Center, a nonpartisan group that works to educate election officials nationwide, where he will work as chief executive for operations.

“That’s one thing that you sacrifice when you take a job in elections. You’re going to miss funerals, school events, all kinds of things because when the election cycle’s on, you just don’t get to participate in those things,” Gloria said.

“Most mild-mannered guy”

Since Gloria was appointed as registrar in 2013, he has been known for his calm, straightforward approach to his job. When misinformation cropped up in 2016 about the election process, he thwarted rumors and stuck with the facts. When the state Legislature required all voters to automatically receive a mail ballot in 2020, he figured out how to turn that around in just three months.

“He is very professional, nonpartisan. He just does his job and makes sure things run as smoothly as possible,” said Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, adding that Gloria is the “nicest, most mild-mannered guy you could ever ask for.”

Gloria received national attention in the 2020 election when, during a news conference, a man wearing a “BBQ, Beers and Freedom” T-shirt interrupted him and started yelling about how the election was stolen. “We want our freedom for the world,” the man yelled.

“Where were we? What was the last question?” Gloria said calmly after the man left. Gloria continued to answer press questions, like when the county would have updates on the number of mail ballots it received in the mail and at the drop-off boxes.

Gloria was used to working election hotlines, where he would get frantic calls at 5:30 a.m. from election workers because they could not get into a facility or could not find the voting equipment.

“After you deal with that for years and years and years, you kind of, it takes quite a bit to get you riled up,” Gloria said.

That press conference changed his life in a way. He heard from family in Mexico, and he covered his office door with letters of support he received from people all over the world, offering to buy his staff meals.

“When we dealt with so many challenges — COVID and going to the all-mail (ballot) as a result, and then you had the mis- and disinformation that we were dealing with — my staff should have been celebrated,” Gloria said.

The threats

He and his staff were also no stranger to threats that were brought on after the 2020 election when former President Donald Trump spread false claims that the election was stolen. About one in four election officials across the country reported receiving threats.

Gloria had his own share of phone calls and “very ugly emails,” he said, but he said he’s no stranger to hate. As a minority, he said, when he started on the job he got a bunch of emails from people who were not happy the county selected him. But in 2020 it rose to a different level.

“It had never been an issue for me when it was just me, but when my family became impacted, that’s when it did feel a bit different,” Gloria said.

The Metropolitan Police Department had to come by his house on an hourly basis to make sure his family was safe. His son shares Gloria’s name, and people contacted him through social media thinking it was the registrar and saying some inappropriate things, Gloria said.

Through the threats he and his department received in 2020, he was able to better prepare for the 2022 midterms to make sure his staff felt safe.

The county increased police presence at the election department, and county funds bought breakfast and lunch for his staff so they did not need to leave the facility as much.

Protesters stood outside the elections department headquarters carrying weapons and verbally harassing employees. Staff would leave the property to get lunch, only for the protesters to purposely fill their parking spot so the staff member had to park farther away, and thereby giving protesters even more opportunity to yell things at them, Gloria said.

Gloria had made it clear, however, that his leaving was not due to those threats. Rather, it was time for a new opportunity.

‘A model for the entire nation’

Throughout his tenure at the county, he has been most proud of the county’s role nationwide.

“We were always kind of setting an example or a model for the entire nation to follow,” Gloria said. The county was one of the first jurisdictions to embrace electronic voting, and the county set a standard for the rest of the country.

The department had to adapt to rapid growth over the years, where a huge residential building or a new neighborhood went up in areas with no library, schools or government building that traditionally would be used for voting, Gloria said. The county set up early voting sites at grocery stores, malls and tents in parking lots instead.

Gloria also prides himself in his work to make voting accessible in Clark County.

“If you don’t vote in Clark County, you didn’t want to vote, because there’s plenty of opportunity, and now with the mail (ballots), even more so,” Gloria said. “You can’t tell me that if you look at the early voting schedule for in-person, that there wasn’t one opportunity in that 14-day period where you could have taken an hour to get in line and go ahead and vote.”

While he received pressure from national media outlets and political figures asking why the results took so long, Gloria stuck to the timeline that the state implemented for election results, from the deadlines to receive mail ballots, to cure the ballots and double-check signatures and to count the provisional ballots.

“We provide more access to voters. So there’s more opportunity for that voter to get that voted ballot back to what’s here. And if it takes seven or eight days for that to happen for us to process, then so be it,” Gloria said.

Eventually, he thinks the county will need to move to a vote-by-mail only system, as operating both mail and in-person voting is difficult.

“At some point, it needs to shift to where the focus is more on the mail and we have fewer sites, vote centers,” Gloria said.

Lifelong election worker

Before Gloria came to Clark County to work as a voting machine technician in the ’90s, where it was not unusual to work 85-90 hour weeks, he started as a part-time worker in his hometown’s election department of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

He got into the industry by accident. He went to his county clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license, when the clerk, who lived two houses down from him, said, “You’re gonna need a job.” After seven months working part-time, he became a permanent staffer and helped the department implement new voting machine equipment.

In 1995, Gloria was eating a breakfast burrito when his dad, who habitually read the classified ad section of the newspaper when he was bored, called Gloria and said there is a job.

Clark County posted a job notice in other cities in the Southwest that were using the same voting machines that the county was purchasing.

The day Gloria was leaving for Clark County, his dad slipped him $100 and said, “Go show him what you got, son.”

“My dad and I were really tight,” Gloria said. “I never thought I would leave home, but this job here gave me opportunities that I never would have had in New Mexico.”

It was a difficult transition at first, but his coworkers and department staff supported him over the years.

Gloria performed very well considering the “enormous challenges” that he faced, said Clark County Commissioner Ross Miller.

“I don’t think there’s an election official in state history who has had to deal with more challenges than when Joe was at the helm,” Miller said.

Miller himself served as Nevada’s secretary of state from 2007 t0 2015, where he oversaw all of the state’s elections.

While Gloria’s replacement has not been selected yet, he hopes the county hires within the department so that the new registrar is familiar with the process. He hopes that the department continues his efforts of making voting accessible.

“I’ve always tried to give them the resources that they need to do the job that they want to do because they’re all passionate people,” Gloria said, “You can’t work in this job and not be passionate about what you’re doing. The reward is not that great. We’re not getting rich doing this stuff. But there’s a great deal of satisfaction.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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