Orange Alert

Man behind the curtain

Joseph T. Burns '01 is ushering New York voters into the digital age

June 27, 2013, by Rob Enslin

Joseph T. Burns '01 (right) with Edward F. Cox, chair of the New York Republican State Committee and President Nixon's son-in-law
Joseph T. Burns '01 (right) with Edward F. Cox, chair of the New York Republican State Committee and President Nixon's son-in-law

Joseph T. Burns ’01 may not be a household name, but anyone who has recently voted in New York State has him to thank. Since 2009, the Syracuse University alumnus has served as deputy director of election operations for the New York State Board of Elections (SBOE).

“My unit performs a variety of functions, including overseeing the 62-county Board of Elections, the certification of voting systems, and ballot access for state candidates," says Burns, who was a dual major in history and political science in SU's College of Arts and Sciences. “One of the biggest projects we’ve been involved with has been the certification and implementation of the new optical-scan voting machines. Our staff continues to spend a tremendous amount of time on this project.”

After earning a J.D. from Albany Law School, Burns plunged headlong into New York State politics by working for Sen. John DeFrancisco. For four years, Burns split time between Albany and his native Syracuse, drafting and negotiating legislation for hot-button issues and participating in senate judiciary committee hearings. An Albany newspaper named him one of the city's “sexiest bachelors."

These days, Burns, 34, dispenses legal and political advice to Republican commissioners of the SBOE; assists the New York Republican State Committee at conventions and meetings; and counsels Republican candidates, elected officials and party leaders, something he has done for more than a decade. Last summer, he was invited to serve on the official proceedings staff of the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Fla.

We recently caught up with Burns to ask him a few questions:

Burns and U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner
Burns and U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner

What’s on your mind with the upcoming elections?
Even though 2013 isn't a presidential or gubernatorial election year, many other kinds of candidates--from town clerks to the mayor of New York City--will be on the ballot in November. There are a number of issues of concern for our Board of Elections commissioners, but our office is doing what we can to support our colleagues at the county level. 

What advice do you have for people applying to law school?
First, study your hardest for the LSAT [Law School Admission Test]. It’s that important. Then make sure you’re going to law school for the right reasons. Don’t go because your family, friends, or professors say you should or because you don’t know what to do with your life. Go to law school because you want to go.

What have been the highlights of your career, thus far?
My first highlight was working for Sen. DeFrancisco, who involved me in some interesting and rewarding projects. Those projects did a lot of good for our local community and for New York State. I loved that work.

My second highlight was being appointed to my current job, which has allowed me to work with the county Board of Elections commissioners on a daily basis. They're great public servants who do so much for the people of New York State. It's an honor to know and work with them.

What are your long-term goals?
I really enjoy the field I’m in, and see myself staying in it for a long time.

If you could visit any place in the world, it would be …
China. I recently returned from a trip to China, sponsored by the American Council of Young Political Leaders. It was my first trip abroad. I had a wonderful time, and met some terrific people. I can't wait to go back.

Any vices?
I’m addicted, as everyone else is, to Angry Bird apps. 

What do you dig about SU?
Easy--having the best men's basketball team in the country.

Media Contact

Rob Enslin