Citizens Redistricting Commission

Psychology sophomore Ryan Rofols is the only student on the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Committee, which will split Austin up into 10 districts for the 2014 Austin City Council elections. 

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Photo Credit: Marshall Nolen | Daily Texan Staff

The City of Austin took another step forward Monday in its search for citizens to draw new city representation lines for the November 2014 elections.

The city will be split into 10 districts, each represented by one council member. The Citizens Redistricting Commission will be responsible for drawing the lines for those 10 districts and will include one student commissioner position.

City auditor Kenneth Mory randomly selected three names from a pool of 14 qualified applicants to form the applicant review panel on Monday. This panel, consisting of residents Martha Parker, Michelle DeFrance and Caroline Limaye, will narrow down the commission applications to 60 qualified applicants, and the city auditor will draw eight names May 22. Those eight commissioners will appoint the final six, for a total of 14 commissioners. There have been 36 submissions for the student position.

“We’re looking forward to having the panel select the 60 and doing the random drawing of the eight for the actual commission who will be drawing the lines,” Mory said.

Printed on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 as: City continues with plan for redistricting commission

While Austin officials are taking applications from citizens to draw lines for the city’s single-member districts, UT students have an unparalleled opportunity to represent themselves in Austin’s shift to geographic representation.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission will be drawing new district lines for Austin’s 2014 elections. In accordance with the Proposition 3 Amendment passed in November, one council member will represent each of these 10 districts to ensure accurate representation for each resident, said Linda Curtis, coordinator for Austinites for Geographic Representation. The group is responsible for getting the 10-1 plan passed through the City Council.

One commissioner position will belong to a student currently enrolled at any college in Austin. Requirements for regular commissioner positions, including having voted in three of Austin’s last five general elections, will be waived for the student commissioner position.

Curtis said the existence of the student commissioner position was heavily advocated by UT’s student government while the 10-1 plan was being written.

“UT Student Government was very active in the phase of determining what the measure was going to look like, and they advocated that we have a student seat on the 14-person commission,” Curtis said. “The student population in Austin is so big that we got convinced that it was important. I’m hoping that somebody will pick up the mantle from UT.”

Curtis said the coalition began meeting in February 2011 to discuss a process for creating single-member districts.

“We started talking about if we could come together to agree on a system for single-member districts, because single-member districts has been widely supported for years and years,” Curtis said. “By about October we agreed to do a 10-1 system.”

The Citizens Redistricting Commission will consist of 14 Austin residents, who will be responsible for drawing new district lines for the city. The Applicant Review Panel, an additional three-person entity in the redistricting process, will select the commissioners by narrowing down all applications to a pool of 60 qualified applicants, from which the city auditor will draw eight random names. These eight selected commissioners will appoint the final six commissioners. Applications for both the Applicant Review Panel and the Citizens Redistricting Commission opened Jan. 18 and will close Feb. 22.

City Auditor Kenneth Mory said the commission will be working to ensure accurate representation of Austin’s diverse population.

“The idea is making sure there is a diverse group of commissioners,” Mory said. “One of the things that we’re focusing on [are] unrepresented groups, for example Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans.”

Mory said the city auditor’s office has attempted to reach out to UT student organizations, but is unsure if any students have applied.

“I don’t know if we have received any applications as of yet from students,” Mory said. “We’re hoping that we do. The students who meet the other qualifications can also apply to be just a regular commissioner.”

John Lawler, urban studies senior and advocate of Proposition 3, said it is critical for UT’s current Student Government to take responsibility for getting students engaged and interested in applying for the position.

“It’s important for us to get a lot of students to apply for the position,” Lawler said. “If we don’t have anyone applying, and we don’t have our Student Government taking that bold stance, then I think we’re sending the wrong message to local leaders.”