Spotlight on Service: Running "North County" with Jude Seymour

Meet Jude Seymour, the Republican Elections Commissioner for the Jefferson County Board of Elections in Jefferson County, New York, or “North Country” as they like to say. For the past eight years, Jude has worked to ensure that eligible voters register to vote and easily participate in elections.

What's your north star and main mission?

My mission is to provide free, fair, and open elections to every eligible voter in Jefferson County. That may sound easy, but there are many moving parts behind the scenes. My goal is for people to come in and vote, have a positive experience, and not even realize what it takes to make casting their vote possible. People want their vote to be counted correctly, make a difference, and use their time wisely. We want to help facilitate that to the best extent possible. Every day I work towards that mission, and when we're not running an election every day, we are always preparing for the next election.

How did you get into this work?

I took the circuitous route. In college, I majored in Film with dreams of becoming the next Roger Ebert, a renowned movie reviewer. After college, I covered politics for the local newspaper, the Watertown Daily Times, which parlayed into being recruited as a spokesperson for a Congressional campaign. After being a stay-at-home dad, I got picked up by a New York State Senator to be his communications director. Shortly after, this job at the Board of Elections opened.

I was always a regular voter and viewed the poll workers as volunteers. I never considered how the machines got there, who counted the machines, whether the machines were ever tested or programmed, or what needed to be done to make sure we had a successful election. I trusted the process. When I got approached about being the next Commissioner, I didn’t know what the job entailed. “Making sure elections run smoothly” sounded fairly easy and laid back. Elections and election reform are now priorities, which has greatly expanded our obligations and put a lot of new eyeballs on us.

What are your key priorities and responsibilities on your plate today?

We oversee 60,000 registered voters in Jefferson County, ensuring eligible individuals can vote while preventing ineligible ones from doing so due to relocation, age, or passing. We maintain voter regulations and prepare for upcoming elections, including ballot creation and machine testing to ultimately provide a positive voting experience.

I work at a higher level to guarantee everything needed is in place for my team. I support my registration clerk and deputy by providing necessary supplies and resources for tasks, such as envelope supply and machine programming. My role requires me to wear many hats, from part-time lawyer to purchasing agent and marketing manager. We have fun putting out fires and handling unexpected challenges. The nature of being a department head in a close-knit team means that you can't pass off problems. Every challenge is our responsibility in our eight-person office.

What keeps you up at night when it comes to the work you do?

There's a period before every election where all of us administrators lose sleep over the idea that something will go wrong. A thousand things need to go right. These small mistakes may cost people a few minutes of their time. As long as no one  loses their right to vote, we can hold our heads up high.

When we speak to high school seniors and talk to them about the importance of voting in elections beyond the Presidential, their eyes glaze over. Some don't feel that any of it matters, and it’s overwhelming even though there are so many more important races that impact our lives. I hope to instill in the next generation that our vote matters much more on the local level than state-wide.

Broadly speaking, I like to view elections as a birthday party. We send out invitations annually – a card outlining your eligibility to vote, polling place details, and the party. Just like preparing a birthday bash, I ensure everything's set – the cake, the streamers, even the classic pin the donkey game. But you have to decide whether to show up. I'd rather have you there, enjoying the setup I've arranged and paid for than have everything go to waste. My goal is for participation to be a willing choice, not a chore.

What value do you see in learning from your peers?

When you first walk through the door, you don’t know anything. It's not a job you intrinsically understand. A lot of us are political appointees and come from different walks of life. Now we've ascended to the top position and are just told to figure it out. You couldn't do that without your colleagues. Whenever we get new colleagues, whether it be Republicans or Democrats, we make sure that they can get up to speed and get on the same page with us as quickly as humanly possible. The faster they feel comfortable asking questions and getting answers, the better off we all are, which Roundtable helps to facilitate. There are people out there that can teach you a lot about what you need to know to be successful in this business, and then you can translate that to the next person down the line.

How is Roundtable helpful to you?

For a long time, I’ve desired to have a central repository where we could share and get information with plenty of reference materials available, and a place for people regardless of party to ask questions about their work. Roundtable is the perfect solution.

If I give one person one piece of information, I've only given one person one piece of information. But if I put it on Roundtable, I reach all of my colleagues. Maybe they don't all need that piece of information now, but it becomes a part of the historical record, a keyword, a search away they can later refer back to. Roundtable is also an opportunity to engage in networking daily without the barriers of the silos that we find ourselves in now, where Republicans and Democrats have their respective platforms. I want to be able to talk to some of the best minds. Now we’re working towards building a daily habit of checking in on Roundtable for it to become an indispensable resource for all of our colleagues that they can't live without. Roundtable is becoming the go-to place to get the answers.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to / is about to enter your field?

Come in with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and put your ego aside. Understand there's a lot in this space that's foreign, but there are a lot of people willing to help you if you're willing to listen. I stumbled my way into this job, but now I can't see myself doing anything else. Having said that, if you win the lottery and want to share your winnings with me, I'd be happy to retire. As far as an occupation goes, this one feels like it's making a difference.