Following the 2020 U.S. Census, the state of Texas reapportioned its districts based on population changes in a process called redistricting. This process should be guided by public input so that policymakers can make informed decisions about what our districts should look like. However, that has not been the case in our state. Texas has decades of partisan and racial gerrymandering embedded in its legislative districts. As a result, many communities continue to be split apart, leaving them unheard and underrepresented in our government. Of note, colleges and universities across the state and country consistently endure the consequences of redistricting processes that largely ignore their interests.
Between a lack of notice for public hearings, the need to travel hours to Austin for hearings that lack remote testimony options, and the need to potentially wait hours to testify in the end, our redistricting process does not encourage public participation. In fact, it actively discourages it.
As redistricting fellows with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, we are a voice for Texas college students in our state’s redistricting process. The focus of our advocacy efforts has been to keep college and university communities together as communities of interest. While campus communities are incredibly diverse, we have common interests and concerns that deserve proper representation by elected officials.
Jocelyn attends the University of Texas at El Paso which, thankfully, is kept together in its Congressional and State Legislative districts. However, CJ and his community are not as lucky: Texas State University and the San Marcos area are split, or “cracked,” into multiple Congressional and State Senate districts. As a result, the voting power of students in the San Marcos community is diluted, impacting their ability to elect officials who will understand and advocate for their needs. Students are split into different districts depending on which dorm they live in, meaning different representatives and, when it comes to voting in elections, different ballots and polling places. This is unnecessarily confusing and complex for students who want to participate in their democracy.
Over the past couple of months, we drew and submitted nearly 100 maps of Texas college and university communities, illustrating where students live on and off-campus. These maps are an important way for us to inform map-drawers about what our campus communities look like and how they should be kept together. We also waited hours (CJ waited over 5 hours and Jocelyn waited over 8 hours) to testify at public hearings held by the Texas House of Representatives’ redistricting committee. At these hearings, we shared our concerns about campus communities being split apart and the need to bring and keep them together. Although we were privileged to be able to wait for hours to testify, we noticed many Texans who gave up after a while because waiting an entire day to testify is impractical. Many of these prospective testifiers traveled hours to Austin, only to have to give up on making their voices heard in the end.
Governor Greg Abbott recently signed into law our Congressional and State Legislative districts for the next decade, which continue to split Texas campus communities apart. However, the fight for fair districts in Texas is not over —– these maps are already in the courts with litigation well underway. Texans, including college students, need to continue advocating for our communities. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to share with the courts that our communities, the state of Texas, and our democracy are at their strongest when fair districts are drawn, communities are kept together, and every Texan is properly represented and heard by our lawmakers. And we need to continue advocating for a redistricting process that embraces public participation and ends partisan and racial gerrymandering.
Jocelyn Carrera is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, and CJ Cetina is a senior at Texas State University. They are also redistricting fellows with Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project
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