Trump fired his boss in 2020. Now, this Gen Z candidate is up against a fake elector

Ashwin Ramaswami, 24, was an intern in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency when former President Donald Trump fired his boss in late 2020 for publicly disputing Trump's claims of voter fraud in the election.

Now, Ramaswami, a Democrat, is running for Georgia state Senate in District 48 against Shawn Still, the Republican incumbent − and a Trump ally who was indicted last year for allegedly posing as a fake elector to try and overturn the 2020 election.

The Indian American Gen Z candidate, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary Tuesday, launched his campaign last year, telling USA TODAY in an interview that protecting the legitimacy of election results and a person's right to their vote is what inspired him to run in his home state of Georgia, where Trump has been indicted by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on allegations that he tried to wipe out Biden's victory in the state through the use of fake electors and by pressuring state officials.

“The message…is this idea of the next generation of folks taking stuff into their own hands and really saying that we will stand up for integrity and honesty in politics in a way that too often a lot of people running for office don’t really do,” Ramaswami said.

And he believes he has a shot to take Still out of office by vigorously campaigning on the message of saving a democracy in peril because of Trump - among other issues - and gathering up a broad coalition of voters to support him in the coming months.

Ramaswami’s campaign has vastly outraised Still’s in the latest filing period between Feb. 1 and April 30, with Ramaswami raising $146,442 and Still raising only $6,400. Since he launched his campaign in December of last year, Ramaswami raised over $282,000, with only $8,066 of that being self-funded.

But Ramaswami as a first-time political candidate faces challenges if he wants to defeat his opponent, including appealing to voters in a district that has been redrawn to favor Republicans, political science experts said.

Ashwin Ramaswami
Ashwin Ramaswami

Election integrity, democracy at the forefront of this fight

Though Ramaswami is stumping on other issues, such as the economy and healthcare, at the core of his fight against Still is preserving election integrity.

A poll conducted by Marist College between March 11 and March 14 among 1,283 Georgia adults ages 18 and older found that 25% of respondents say preserving democracy is their top issue when thinking about casting a ballot in November, followed by 24% citing immigration, 24% mentioning inflation and 10% saying healthcare. Eight percent of respondents chose abortion as their top issue while 7% chose crime and 1% are unsure.

The poll also found that 69% of Georgia adults are confident or very confident that their state or local government will run a fair and accurate election, with 30% not very confident or not confident at all.

“It’s important for our representatives to respect our vote,” said Ramaswami. “What Shawn Still did and what the fake electors did undermined the power of all Georgians.”

Ramaswami previously served as an intern and later part-time paid employee at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, where he worked under former director Christopher Krebs and helped states find and fix vulnerabilities in election systems. His research on the role of technology and social media in the spread of election misinformation has also been published in several papers.

He decided to run against Still after the Georgia lawmaker was indicted last year by a grand jury for allegedly signing a certificate falsely declaring that Trump won the state of Georgia in the 2020 election and acting as a "duly elected and qualified" presidential elector.

Still was charged with seven counts, including violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act which targets people engaged in organized crime.

Still has pleaded not guilty. The case has yet to go to trial. His legal team has argued that the state has no "authority or jurisdiction" to prosecute Still for his "actions as a contingent presidential elector" and that the indictment violates his First Amendment rights. They even moved to quash the indictment last year.

USA TODAY reached out to Still for an interview request, but did not immediately receive a response.

Shawn Still was a fake Trump elector who was allegedly recruited to alter votes from Biden to Trump.
Shawn Still was a fake Trump elector who was allegedly recruited to alter votes from Biden to Trump.

Does Ramaswami have a chance against Still?

As a political newcomer, the path for Ramaswami to defeat Still might be tough.

“Given his youth, this may be more of a dry run for the future,” said Carl Cavalli, a professor of political science at the University of North Georgia.

Still, according to his website, has authored and sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation. He’s also serving as the vice chairman of the state and local governmental operations Senate committee and the secretary of the natural resources and environment Senate committee.

In his second term, Still hopes to tackle immigration reform, environmental legislation, workforce development, tightening up election integrity laws and other issues, according to a statement on his website.

But Ramaswami believes that he can bring new perspective to the state legislature, arguing that “I do want to focus on a lot of issues…whether it’s more access to education, expanding access to health care, reproductive rights - all the things which the Republican majority in the Georgia State Senate kind of isn’t really working on."

He added that Democratic Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff's team has been helpful for advice and connecting him with folks who can support his campaign. Ossoff gained national attention as the youngest sitting senator since 2021 and could serve as a role model for Ramaswami.

The makeup of District 48 is another challenge. David Shafer, an indicted Trump ally and former Georgia GOP chair, held the District 48 state senate seat from 2002 to 2019. Two Democrats held the seat after: Zahra Karinshak and Michelle Au.

However, the district was redrawn after the 2020 election which made it more heavily favor Republicans, said Charles S. Bullock II, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia. After redistricting, Still won the seat in the 2022 midterms by 13% against his Democratic opponent at the time, Josh Uddin.

"Ramaswami is facing an uphill battle in a Republican area," said Cavalli.

But though the physical outline of the district remains the same this year as Ramaswami competes against Still, Bullock said that what Democrats are hoping could give them an upper hand is the demographic change in the district that has been taking place over the years as an influx of diverse groups move in the area.

For instance, the southernmost precincts in the district are voting Democratic as a growing Indian population moves into south Forsyth County, he said. And a key constituency in the district is college educated White voters who are less likely to accept Republican claims that the 2020 election was stolen, he added.

“Bottom line: Ramaswami has a chance in November,” Bullock said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gen Z candidate Ashwin Ramaswami is up against a Trump fake elector