We've heard a lot, A LOT, about the electoral college, and that electors actually choose the president. Jamaica Plain's Wayne Yeh is one of 11 state electors for Massachusetts.
Yeh, a 26 year old LGBTQ+ son of Chinese Laotian refugees, moved to Boston for college. As a community organizer he says he's committed to achieving justice for working class and immigrant communities of color, particularly through the electoral process.
On Dec. 14 he will be casting his vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the Massachusetts State House during a ceremony that is closed to the public.
Yeh answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about being an elector.
Q: How long have you lived in Jamaica Plain?
Yeh: I've lived in JP since 2018. I first moved to Boston from Chico, CA to attend Tufts University for undergrad in 2012. I majored in American Studies with a focus on critical race and ethnic studies. Through my education, I learned of the institutional impact of higher education institutions on our communities, and started working alongside existing community-based organizations working to address issues of displacement and gentrification, economic security, immigrant rights, environmental justice, and more. Once I graduated in 2016, I started working as a grassroots community organizer focusing on civic action and electoral work at an organization called the Chinese Progressive Association, based in Boston's Chinatown. I have also been working with Boston-based political organizations such as Chinese Progressive Political Action and Right to the City VOTE to focus on expanding a progressive electorate through year-round civic action on issue and policy platforms impacting the lives of high potential working-class voters of color. I moved to JP to be closer to my work in Chinatown, and to be better connected and engaged in my local community and neighborhood in Boston.
Q: Each Massachusetts elector is chosen by the winning party's state committee. But how did the state committee choose you as an elector?
Yeh: Although I have been increasingly involved in progressive political efforts over the years, the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary inspired me to personally get involved in the formal Democratic Party structure. I found that voices and experiences like mine –younger folks, Asian American, LGBTQ+, children of immigrants and refugees, first-generation to attend college, et cetera – typically are not represented in both elected office and in the party itself. I decided to become more involved in the Democratic Party because I'm determined to help the party better engage working-class people of color, particularly Asian Americans as a critical voting bloc.
In March I joined the Boston Ward 19 Democratic Committee and in April I ran for and was elected to an "add-on" seat to the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee. I also recently joined the Steering Committee of the Jamaica Plain Progressives and the board of Bay State Stonewall Democrats. In May, I ran to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention representing the MA-08 congressional district for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who I supported in the primary. In August I decided to run to be a Massachusetts presidential elector in the electoral college because I believed that following the primary, we need to work toward a more unified Democratic Party with space for Democratic voters who initially supported different candidates who championed different ideas, and work toward true unity and reconciliation for those voters. This was my message as I campaigned to members of the Democratic State Committee, and I'm humbled and honored to have received enough votes to be elected. I also ran to ensure that our electoral delegation of 11 people better and more equitably reflects the demographics of Massachusetts.
Q: So who are you casting your vote for?
Yeh: I will be casting my vote to elect Joseph R. Biden for President and Kamala D. Harris for Vice President. This reflects the Massachusetts results of the winning party following the November 3 election results.
Q: Let's say something comes over you, or you're possessed, and choose to vote for someone else. Are you required to vote for President-elect Joe Biden?
Yeh: Massachusetts does not currently have a "faithless elector" law. However, I signed a pledge with the Massachusetts Democratic Party that I am committed to casting my vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. While there are 11 electors, there are also two alternates. If an elector indicates that they may cast their vote for someone other than the party's nominee, it's possible that they would be replaced by an alternate.
Q: Why do you want to vote for President-elect Joe Biden?
Yeh: I'm looking forward to casting my vote to reflect the popular vote results of both Massachusetts and the entire country. Although I supported a different candidate in the presidential primary, I'm committed to building party unity and strength for the progressive wing, particularly the voices of young Democrats. Above all, I'm most looking forward to casting one of the official votes that ultimately removes Donald Trump from office.
Q: Do you know any of the other electors?
Yeh: All of the electors are also members of the Democratic State Committee. It is typically an insider process and electoral college seats are traditionally reserved for more senior party members who have served on the committee for years or decades, and are typically super volunteers for the candidate who becomes the nominee. However, I ran my campaign as an outsider to uplift voices of those typically marginalized within the party, and I believe it's a symbolic win that represents the direction the Democratic Party should go post-Trump. There are two other people of color in this year's Massachusetts elector class, and two of us are LGBTQ people of color.
Q: The vote is closed to the public. Do you know what it's going to be like?
Yeh: Typically, the electoral college proceedings take place in a ceremony that lasts several hours. (Here's the recording for the 2016 ceremony in Massachusetts) Although we're in the middle of a public health crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral college is required by law to meet in person. We're taking necessary precautions and narrowing down the proceedings to one hour in order to accomplish the essential items of electing the president and vice president. I will get to second the nomination of Kamala Harris for Vice President.
The electoral college proceedings will take place in the Massachusetts House of Representatives Chamber and will be live streamed.
It has been a Massachusetts electoral college tradition that the male electors wear tuxedos, but this year I encouraged our college to do away with the formality.
Q: Are you going to Washington D.C. for the inauguration?
Yeh: Typically electors do get a reserved ticket to the inauguration, but I don't anticipate traveling to Washington D.C. for the inauguration. The plans for the inauguration are still in flux and not yet decided, but I believe much of it will be done virtually. However, I would love to travel to D.C. for a massive socially and physically distanced crowd on the National Mall larger than Trump's inauguration!
Q: What else would you like to share about yourself, being an elector, or anything else?
Yeh: I believe that the electoral college should be abolished. I ran to be an elector to demystify and find out more about the institution and the inner workings of our "representative democracy." We knew who won the presidential election by national popular vote weeks ago. It should be a done deal already, but it's not, because we don't have a direct democracy to elect the president. Instead, the electoral college is an antiquated institution composed of representatives from each state who are tasked with representing the will of their respective state's vote in a winner-takes-all system. In a representative democracy, we don't vote directly for who we want, but we vote for who represents us and makes the ultimate votes that actually count.
There are a few ways to enact a national popular vote for president: 270-by-2024 (nationalpopularvote.com) is an effort to initiate a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is an agreement between states that hold a majority of electoral votes to give their votes to the winner of the national popular vote. This is an electoral college reform (not abolishment) that maintains representative democracy, and the electoral college, in an effort to ensure the result reflects the national popular vote. I think the compact is a good idea in the short term, but should only be a means to an end because it maintains the electoral college in a representative democracy and does not institute a direct democracy of and by the people to elect the highest office in our country. In the end, we need to abolish the electoral college and have direct, not representative, democracy for presidential elections so that "one person, one vote" elects our highest office, regardless of where you live in our country.