The city of Austin will be broken up into 10 voting districts come next election, and a UT student is helping to draw the lines.
Psychology sophomore Ryan Rafols beat out dozens of students aiming to sit on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, a group of community members that will split the city up into voting districts for the November 2014 Austin City Council elections. Under the new ordinance, one city council member will be elected from each of the 10 districts and the mayor will be elected by the whole city.
Rafols was sworn in to the commission in June and is the lone student representative on the 14-member commission. Splitting the city up into districts is meant to allow voters to elect someone close to them who represents the political, neighborhood and economic diversity in different areas of Austin. Currently, the six city council members are elected to serve three-year terms from the city at large.
Some say the ordinance could create a UT district where students are the majority or even pave the way for a student member on City Council. Some say students have a reputation for being apathetic, but Rafols said it is crucial for them to be involved in their community.
Rafols joined the military in 2008 and has helped oversee Travis County elections. He also served as secretary for the Austin Community College Student Government before he transferred to UT. Rafols said one of his biggest strengths is his ability to be impartial, which he believes will help him in drawing the new districts.
“I may be a student, but I’ve traveled the world and done more than most people my age. This task of redistricting will be difficult and it will take more hours than most are willing to commit because of this city’s rich culture, ideation and differing affiliations,” Rafols said. “But I am willing to dedicate as much time as is needed.”
Rafols said David Albert, his government professor at ACC, encouraged him to apply to the commission. Albert said he believes Rafols has a good sense of what other students think and the issues that ignite them.
“Local government is going to affect students like anyone else,” Albert said. “They should be aware of it and be engaged.”
UT alumnus John Lawler worked to get the 10-1 redistricting proposition passed in the November 2012 city election. Lawler worked as the UT Student Government liaison with Austin City Council for years and said the current city structure makes it difficult for students to find a voice in their local government.
“Taking baby steps and involving students systematically in city government will strengthen [the] student voice,” Lawler said. “We won’t be a side note, but up front and center.”