Oh, and the guy was furious.
“The Biden crime family is stealing this election. The media is covering it up,” the man shouted repeatedly, his mask slipping off his face and becoming a chin strap.
Gloria calmly watched the rant, until the man got tired and walked away. The registrar then turned back to the gathered reporters. “Where were we?” he said. “What was the last question?”
A clip of the incident has now been viewed more than 12 million times on Twitter. It feels so ridiculous, so surreal, that it’s almost amusing. Almost. For Gloria, a public servant, it’s probably closer to frightening.
“I can tell you that my wife and my mother are very concerned for me, but we have security here, we have law enforcement who are protecting us. I am concerned for the safety of my staff,” he said at a news conference the next day.
Gloria is one of the many state and local officials who have become unwitting minor celebrities as America keeps its eyes pinned to cable news while the final few swing states continue counting votes. It’s not every day that Arizona’s secretary of state or Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor approaches household-name status. How many people knew Georgia had a “voting system implementation manager”? (It does, and his name is Gabriel Sterling.) Wisconsin Elections Commission Director Meagan Wolfe probably never thought she’d be so in-demand and so busy that she’d have to turn down requests from “every major broadcast and cable network,” as her spokeswoman put it.
This week, these officials are tougher to reach than Beyoncé. Unlike Beyoncé, though, none of them appear particularly interested in the fame, if they’re even cognizant of it.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, for example, has become a minor Twitter phenomenon over the last few days, thanks in part to his imposing stature, bald head and hyper-visible role in keeping the public updated on the Pennsylvania recount. As writer Brian Grubb tweeted, the “silver lining of this election is the rest of the country learning that pennsylvania has a tatted-up 6′8 lt. governor who supports recreational marijuana and prison reform and lives in a converted car dealership and looks kind of like if the undertaker had a poli sci degree.” Another Twitter user compared Fetterman to a retired star CIA agent from an action movie.
Fetterman himself, though, has been somewhat shielded from his own stardom. “I want to ignore Twitter,” he told The Washington Post, given that the platform is where much of America is expressing anxiety over the wait for election results.
Of course, Fetterman has also been busy communicating via other forms of media. “I was on CNN twice this morning, and MSNBC, and I’m booked for NBC at five, and then possibly another thing this evening,” he said Thursday afternoon.
After the election, Fetterman doesn’t have any plans to relax: He said he’ll go right back to working on curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania. He does, however, look forward to being recognized more often on the street as himself. It’ll be nice, he said, “for anyone to stop me for a reason other than I look like a washed-up former professional wrestler.”
Of course, such unexpected fame can serve as a springboard to bigger and better things. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris became a national figure in 2000, when she became embroiled in the presidential recount fight, and eventually certified President George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore by a mere 537 votes. That sudden prominence helped her get elected to the House of Representatives just two years later.
This year, as the pandemic prompted mail-in ballots and a longer counting period, the camera is finding election officials in a variety of states. Turn on the TV on Thursday and there’s Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar on Fox Business telling us the state will continue accepting military and overseas ballots through next Tuesday. There’s Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs on CBS outlining how many votes her state has left to count. There’s Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley on Sky News, taking questions from reporters.
During one news conference, Sterling in Georgia was up to his nose in microphones as reporters shouted questions about how the state can ensure an accurate count.
Fame is a strange beast in the Internet Age, especially for those who never asked for it. No one signs up to be a civil servant in hopes of trending on Twitter, after all. Gloria, Wolfe and everyone else just want to get the job done.
Consider the scene Wednesday in Luzerne County, Pa., where about 54 workers toiled away in a third-floor courtroom at Penn Place in downtown Wilkes-Barre, hoping to finish counting some 30,000 outstanding mail-in ballots that night.
“I want to get as much done today as I possibly can,” said C. David Pedri, the county manager, as he oversaw the counting activity. “I know the world is watching us.”
Or in Atlanta, where Richard Barron, the head of the Fulton County election office, announced Thursday that his staff was just about done counting votes after two sleepless nights and a deluge of international media attention. Workers simply exchanged relieved looks — and then burst into applause.
This sentiment stood out, more so than any desire for 15 minutes of fame.
“We’re going to continue to count,” Gloria said on Thursday. “We will not allow anyone to stop us from doing what our duty is and counting ballots.”
Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Washington, Kellie Gormly in Wilkes-Barre and Reis Thebault in Atlanta contributed reporting.