This Election Day, UC Hastings students, faculty, and staff were seen proudly sporting an “I Voted” sticker on their lapels. They stepped into the voting booth and performed their civic and democratic duty. However, only one person on campus will directly cast a ballot to determine the next President and Vice President of the United States, UC Hastings 2L Andres Ramos.
On December 19, at 2:00 p.m. in the California State Assembly Chamber of the State Capitol building in Sacramento, Andres Ramos will join a group of the nation’s top political minds to meticulously choose the next President and Vice President of the United States as a member of the Electoral College. “Not exactly,” explains Andres. “Not to undercut the huge honor of being part of the Electoral College process, but it’s really just a big ceremony that performs the formality of casting the state’s pre-determined electoral votes as governed by California law.”
Earlier this year, Andres was selected by congressional nominee Wendy Reed, Democratic candidate in the 23rd congressional district, as one of 55 individuals representing the the Democratic Party’s slate of electors for California. Pursuant to the state Elections Code, the 55 electors appointed are those who were nominated by the political party whose presidential candidate receives the most votes from Californians in the general election. “When a voter goes into the booth, they have their choice of candidates, Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine or Donald Trump/Mike Pence. But technically they’re not voting for those candidates directly, they’re voting for a party’s slate of electors to cast the state’s votes in the Electoral College,” explains Andres.
Since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in California, the Democratic Party’s slate of electors, chosen by each Democratic senatorial and congressional nominee, will cast the state’s electoral votes. Although Democratic nominee Wendy Reed lost her bid for Congress to the incumbent, and present House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, she was still able to appoint Andres as an elector.
So how did a law student get tapped by a congressional nominee to become an elector? He called her and asked. “I’m from Elk Grove, not from Wendy’s district, but we got to know each other through our mutual support of Bernie Sanders during the primaries. I thought she might be interested in nominating a fellow Bernie supporter.”
Andres’ participation in the primaries this year was not his first time volunteering in support of the Democratic Party. Politics first piqued his interest back in 2008 during the presidential primary race between then-Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. “I was intrigued by watching the process. It was the end of the Bush years, the economy was tanking, we were at war, and it was inspiring to see two candidates providing a message of hope, and preparing to move the country in a different direction.”
At the time, Andres was only in high school and not yet old enough to vote, but that didn’t stop him from volunteering to help a local congressional campaign that year. “My congressman was a Republican and there was a Democrat named Bill Durston running against him that I began to volunteer for. He didn’t win, but he came within 4 points of ousting the incumbent.”
The next year Andres again volunteered to help a different Democratic candidate vie for the same congressional seat. “I met one of the candidates [Ami Bera] at the local library and really liked him. I started volunteering in his campaign regularly and he was eventually elected to Congress in 2012.”
Andres continued his involvement in Democratic Party activities by participating in the California Vote Project in 2010. This project registers Democrats door-to-door in targeted legislative districts throughout the state. Andres and his fellow organizers registered as many Democrats as possible in order to “flip” a state legislative or congressional seat by increasing Democratic voter turnout in each district.
He was later elected to the governing body of the Democratic Party in Sacramento County and served as both the parliamentarian and the controller before coming to law school. “It’s all volunteer work, but if you’re willing to invest your time in it, you can do it and it’s rewarding. Half the job is showing up and wanting to be involved.” Andres believes that local volunteer work was very valuable. “It really helped me understand the mechanics of the political process and build relationships in the community and in the Party.”
Earlier this year, Andres took his party participation national as he was selected as a Party Leader Elected Official, or “PLEO,” delegate for Bernie Sanders. As a delegate, he attended the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and cast a direct vote for Bernie Sanders. The primary election, like the general, is an indirect election where voters technically vote for a slate of delegates to vote for president on our behalf. Andres is one of the few Americans who will have gotten to vote directly in this year’s presidential election, as he will have cast both a delegate vote and an electoral vote in the primary and general elections. But he wishes he had been on the winning side on both those votes. “It’s unfortunate that the two times I directly cast a vote for a candidate, in the primary [for Bernie Sanders] and now in the general election [for Hillary Clinton], it will be for the person already slated to lose.”
As an elector for the State of California, Andres will sign a pre-printed ballot to cast an official Presidential electoral vote for Hillary Clinton and a separate ballot to cast an official Vice Presidential electoral vote for Tim Kaine. “That’s pretty much it,” says Andres. “There’s no secret backroom meeting … The whole thing will actually be recorded and available to see on the public access channel.”
With the increasing talk of “faithless” electors (those who do not vote for their pledged presidential or vice-presidential candidate), due to Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote but losing in the Electoral College, there is more focus on the actions of electors this year. Andres is pledged to vote Hillary Clinton and is required by California law to vote for her on December 19. “In my Election Law seminar with Professor Matt Coles, we discussed whether or not it was constitutional to require electors to vote a certain way. But there was no real answer to the question because no one really knows. ” The Supreme Court has never explicitly ruled on whether state laws binding electors to their state’s popular vote are constitutional. Andres recognizes that it’s uncharted territory and doesn’t plan on casting a faithless electoral vote to find out.
Even though Andres will certainly not put Donald Trump’s name on his electoral ballot, does he have some temptation to write in Bernie Sanders? “I am the only California elector who was a Bernie delegate at the National Convention, but I will honor my pledge to vote for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.”
Andres is honored by his opportunity to be a part of the Electoral College, but has some reservations about the Electoral College process in general. “There are some legitimate arguments for the Electoral College, but when you examine them, I don’t think they really hold up. It doesn’t give small states an equal say because candidates tend to ignore Montana, Wyoming or Nebraska as much as they ignore California. It’s not about the state’s size, it’s about the state’s value as a swing state.”
The UC Hastings 2L is also not convinced that the Electoral College protects rural citizens from being outvoted by those living in cities. “Looking at population numbers, there is absolutely no way you could be President by just getting the votes from the most populated American cities alone. You wouldn’t even reach 20%.” Andres reflected, “It’s really cool to be able to participate in this institution, but I think we really need to take this election as another wakeup call, the second wakeup call in 16 years, to evaluate our election process moving forward.”
After Andres casts his electoral ballot, it will not be the last time he participates in politics. He plans to continue volunteering and stay involved especially now that he is a law student. “I went to law school because I wanted to make a difference. It sounds kind of cliché, but there are so many opportunities through the law to help people while also staying intellectually challenged. That’s why I chose UC Hastings. It’s a public interest-oriented school, which is definitely the direction I want to go.”
Additionally, Andres has not ruled out a future in public office after he graduates in 2018. “I’m still trying to figure it out, but whatever I do, it will be in public service. I’m not 100% sure whether I want to run for office, but I am 100% sure that I want to be involved in politics at least at the volunteer level.”
“If I were to run for office, I would want it to be because there’s an issue that I’m fighting for. From what I’ve seen, both locally and at higher levels, some people who run are driven in large part by their ambition and ego. If that’s your drive, then it’s going to show itself in the way you govern, and that won’t lead to the best policy outcomes.”
Being a part of the UC Hastings community does have some recent precedent for graduates ascending to high levels of public office. Who knows, perhaps it won’t be long before Senator-elect Kamala Harris will be joined by another UC Hastings grad in the US Senate!