Recently named the new director of elections in Colorado, Judd Choate brings extensive legal and educational experience in campaigns and elections. Currently an election law attorney at Kelly Garnsey Hubbell + Lass – and formerly a scout for the Kansas City Royals – Choate sat down with Law Week Colorado’s Don Knox and Laura Fay to tell us about his longtime love of election politics and how his passion for sports lead him to his new job as a referee of sorts, overseeing Colorado elections.
Question: What made you apply for the position of elections director?
Answer: Well, lots of the work that I’ve done has been about elections. I was a professor and have a Ph.D. in political science, studying campaigns and elections. When I was in law school, I took all the classes which related to campaigns and elections and intended to be an election attorney. This firm does a lot of election law-related work, so it was a great firm for me to come to. When this opportunity opened, it was a natural fit for me. I applied and was fortunate to get through the process.
Q: Do people grow up wanting to be election lawyers?
A: I think there is a band — a very small band — of people, and perhaps we have reason to apologize for that, but I don’t know, I think we’re a very nice group of people.
Q: What’s your interest in elections?
A: I’ve always loved sports, and this is sort of the grown-up version of sports. Elections are very competitive; there are winners and losers, people are ahead or they’re behind, and I’ve always been fascinated by that. As I’ve gotten more and more into it, the process has become more interesting to me than the players.
Q: Are you the referee?
A: Well, in this job you are. I think the secretary of state’s office serves as the people that set the goal lines, the people that set the yardage markers. They make sure the rules are carried out properly. So we’re sort of one level above the referee, but I think that referees are independent, nonpartisan and collaborative, which are all things that I certainly want to try to do in this job.
Q: What are the personal skills you bring to the table?
A: I think the person that’s successful in this position is a person that can find commonality across political perspectives and also regional perspectives – urban, rural, suburban – and find mutual objectives that can be met by working together. And, frankly, from what I know about the past couple of years, we’ve been pretty successful with that. One of the markers for success in an election cycle is how many lawsuits are filed against you by the major players. Last year, there were very few and that’s certainly something that I’ll try to continue.
Q: How important is it for this position to be nonpartisan?
A: In my discussions with [Secretary of State Bernie Buescher], he absolutely wanted it to be nonpartisan. He also wanted my assurance that I would be nonpartisan in the position. It’s certainly not a big reach because I’ve been in nonpartisan positions for the vast majority of my professional life.
Q: But you’ve worked for the Democratic Party…
A: I actually work for the law firm that employs the partner who’s the counsel to the Democratic Party, so it’s a little bit more removed than that. The projects I’ve done have never been partisan – it was always about trying to understand the law and trying to apply the law.
Q: What’s your agenda for the first 100 days?
A: My first 100 days’ agenda is to keep my mouth shut, go to meetings, and do a lot of listening. There’s a startup time for me. I need to learn about these projects and I need to listen to what the deputies are telling me. Most notably, Wayne Munster, who has been the acting elections director for the last year and has done a very good job. I want to listen to him and learn about the various issues that we face. Hopefully, by the time we’re preparing for the caucuses in the spring, I will be fully schooled on where we’re at.
Q: You used to work for the Kansas City Royals. Being a baseball scout seems like a dream job, why would one ever leave that position?
A: I always get that question and I always want to shift it back: what do you think a baseball scout does? He travels. Let me tell you what my days were like as a baseball scout. You get up at, oh, seven or eight o’clock in the morning, you get in the car, you drive 200 miles to watch 45 minutes of a baseball game, you go out and grab a burger. Then you do it again. It was 10 years before I could start to enjoy baseball again.