Students raise awareness about district lines that split student vote

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Photo Credit: Ella Williams | Daily Texan Staff

An invisible line runs through Guadalupe Street.

Every day students walk to class and cross it. Government senior Hamza Sait said it divides the 21st and 25th Congressional Districts — and the student vote. 

“There is a very clear injustice going on,” Sait said. “Students have a vote that doesn’t count. For me, that was compelling enough to say, ‘I’ve got to do something about it. I’ve got to start something.’” 

In the fall of 2019, Sait founded Over District Lines to bring attention to the issue.

Currently, West Campus is represented by the 21st Congressional District, which spans over Fredericksburg and parts of San Antonio. A couple of streets away, North Campus and on-campus housing are represented by the 25th Congressional District, which includes parts of South Dallas and Cleburne. 

“These are essentially giant rural areas cutting slices of the students’ votes onto their side,” Sait said. “We aren’t one giant voting block that is going to have our voice (heard) in the national legislature.”

Ben Burke, political communications freshman and communications director of Over District Lines, said the organization’s ultimate goal is for the district line that runs through Guadalupe to be moved to 15th Street instead, which would incorporate West Campus into the 25th congressional district.

“The concrete goals we hope to achieve are first, educating the student body about the situation and second, pressuring elected officials to openly advocate for fairly drawn congressional districts,” Burke said. 

Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn based on the census, which will be taken again in 2020. Over District Lines aims to return student voters to a unified congressional district in the next drawing.

“When they are reapportioning, we think (the Texas state legislature) should essentially make it the Austin district,” Sait said. “We are basically demanding that you can’t cut congressional lines through house district lines.”

Mariam Ali, math sophomore and social media director for the organization, said now is the time for students to pay attention to the issue because whatever lines are drawn will be the ones students have to live with for the next 10 years.

Over District Lines also works to raise awareness for this issue by tabling on Guadalupe Street, lobbying and creating a strong social media presence.

Partnering with the app Blue Squad, Over District Lines uses the communication software to find unregistered voters and help spread their message through automated texts. 

“We have a unique way of going about solving it in this sense that we have this collective identity as students who are being gerrymandered,” Sait said. “We’re trying to approach this from a software perspective, legislature perspective and a campaign perspective.” 

Over District Lines is planning a student protest on Nov. 3 to bring attention to how the issue affects students and the impact of their vote.

“We look at this as a civil rights issue,” Sait said. “We think this is a clear violation of student’s right to have a voice.”

Ali is a green card holder and cannot vote. Despite this, she is passionate about ensuring a fair voting process for those who can. 

“This whole organization technically doesn’t make a personal difference for me,” Ali said. “Since I can’t (vote), the least I can do is make a difference in another way.”