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Keys elections chief won't run because future election law changes could pose 'ethical problems'

Joyce Griffin pulls masking tape to set up viewing area during an election recount in 2020.
Gwen Filosa
Miami Herald
Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin on Nov. 5, 2020, sets up a television for the public to watch a recount in the District 3 County Commission race.

When Joyce Griffin started working at the Monroe County election office nearly four decades ago, people voted with levers and the results were typed up with carbon paper.

Now people can register to vote and request mail-in ballots online. And election results come in live over the internet.

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Griffin became the supervisor of elections in 2012 — and she recently announced that she plans to step down at the end of her term, in 2024.

"It's time, I think. The Legislature, they're passing some laws that I'm worried that at some point there will be an ethics problem for me to follow them," she said.

WLRN's Keys reporter Nancy Klingener recently sat down with Griffin at her office in Key West to discuss her decision not to run again.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

GRIFFIN: I love my job. Men have died and they have come home maimed for fighting for our country. And my job is the first step in democracy. Our office is the seed. And I hold that very dear to my heart and I always have. But things are getting very ugly.

WLRN: What kind of ethics problems are you concerned about? 

GRIFFIN: For instance, when I first started working here, you had to request your vote by mail ballot every year, and then it went to, you could request for two voting cycles, which it would be like if you requested in 2020, you could request for 2020 and 2022. And they've changed that to go back to every year. And that's a silly thing. I mean, I could work with that.

But there's other things like, they passed a law to request a vote by mail ballot, I need a driver's license or the last four digits of your Social Security. Well, there's voters that I don't have that information on. And why? If we could ask them other questions to verify? Plus, once you get the ballot you voted and you send it back to the election office, we check every signature, every signature we check. So there are guards up.

And people will say, well, they're trying to stop a certain group of people from voting. No, no, that doesn't work. And if that's what they're doing, they're very silly, because it affects everyone. It affects both parties.

WLRN: What kind of changes have you seen in voting here since you started? 

GRIFFIN: Well, we didn't have computers when I started and we were on the lever machines. And so we typed everything with carbon paper.

WLRN: I think at this point, you're the only Democrat elected countywide. 

GRIFFIN: When I ran, I had a man in Marathon tell me, "You got the wrong initial next to your name." And I told him, "So you're a red dog Republican. You'd vote for a red dog rather than vote for me, and it doesn't matter how much experience I have." And he said, "Well, what about your opponent?" And I said, "My opponent doesn't have a day."

And I told that person, I said, "Look, when you go into the booth and you fill out the oval, bells won't go off if you fill in a D. Nobody will ever know." And to the people who want to vote straight tickets: Move to Cuba. They take care of that for you there. You don't have a choice there. And for you follow blindly, you are insulting our forefathers who gave us the right to pick.

I also — I am begging — I have seen this happen for years, and for years, I have said, people, please, pay attention to what you're voting for. Fifty percent of the people will vote this year. It's a gubernatorial year. And in two years they call it a presidential year — 80 percent will vote then. So you got 30 percent of the population that will only come out for the World Series. They're not going to go to the games. These are the people that are going out there and they're voting for their team. I always say, if you don't know, leave it blank, don't guess.

We had a man that was in jail on Election Day. He was on violation of probation for cocaine. He was in jail. He won the primary because he had a name that was familiar. Don't guess at these things, these people will represent you. You do not want someone that's on cocaine and in jail being on your mosquito board. That's just not something you want representing you.

WLRN: Are there any kind of stories or incidents that really stick out from your career?

GRIFFIN: Well, I'll tell you, I like homecoming elections the best, and I will get as many phone calls, you know, from grandmothers, mostly "How'd my granddaughter do?"

And it allows us to teach kids how to vote. We take over the old Accu-Votes, I kept some of them. And we take them over and the kids vote on them. We have them go to a poll worker, they get their ballot, they go to a voting booth and they vote and they put it in the machine.

I'm also teaching Americans and first-generation Americans, children that maybe their parents aren't allowed to vote, but they're allowed to vote.

I've had somebody tell me that if they didn't vote in school, they don't know if they would have voted as an adult because it's quite intimidating going into a place you've never been before to do something you've never done. Well, if you did it once in school, you kind of know what you're going to be doing when you get there.

Want to keep up with the latest stories out of the Florida Keys like this one? Sign up for The Tieline, our newsletter focused on all things Keys and Monroe County. The newsletter will arrive in your inbox twice a month and is written and curated by WLRN’s southernmost reporter Nancy Klingener. She shares her reporting, the latest news out of the Keys and much more. Head here to sign up.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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