University Democrats

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

Ten teams gathered on Sunday at a downtown building to present their ideas on utilizing technology to increase progressive votes.

Participants created apps and websites this weekend at ATX Political Hackathon, the first officially partisan political hackathon in the nation. The hackathon was hosted at Civitas Learning and in partnership with the Texas Democratic Party.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who spoke at the event, said the hackathon represents an intersection between politics and the tech industry.

“Looking at the intersection of technology and elections is not only fascinating, but is crucial if we’re going to change what’s going on politically in our city and in our state and in our country,” Adler said.

The University Democrats participated at the hackathon and won second place. They created “Democats,” a game which rewards players with points for their political engagement in the real world, said Allie Runas, UDems officer and electrical and computer engineering junior.

“Our goal was to make something for young millennial voters who are not likely to be actively engaged in the political process and to find a way to make the political process more engaging,” Runas said.

Robbie Zuazua, electrical and computer engineering senior, participated at the hackathon with three other UT students and said the event is important because it allows people from tech backgrounds to care about political issues.

“A lot of tech people, they just don’t necessarily think about what they’re building, they just do it because it’s cool,” Zuazua said. “This gives you a lot of context and understanding into like things that you can build.”

Cliff Walker, campaign services and candidate recruitment director of the Texas Democratic Party, said the teams provided innovative solutions to existing civic engagement problems.

“I want people to look at these (political) challenges that we have with fresh eyes,” Walker said. “There are things I saw presented tonight that I’ve not seen actively being done in politics in the dozen years I’ve been involved.”

ATX Political Hackathon founder Daniel Webb said the event was not just a way to come up with solutions to problems from a technology side, but it was also a way to bring the community together.

“Hackathons are supposed to be competitive but … half the pitches we saw were referencing other hackathon projects to integrate with,” Webb said during the event. “That is community, that’s people coming together to try to solve problems.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, held a town hall on campus Wednesday night where she answered student questions on voter participation and the state of U.S. politics.

University Democrats hosts a new speaker weekly, and the town hall featuring Hinojosa was also streamed on Facebook Live. Students both in the audience and at home had the chance to ask questions on Facebook and Twitter using #AskGina.

“Rep. Hinojosa has — to commend her — definitely taken the initiative in paying attention to what students are concerned about,” University Democrats President Douglas Snyder said. “She doesn’t just represent us according to the district lines. She literally does represent us (as students).”

To start out, Hinojosa commented on the current state of U.S. politics.

“I want to convey to you that the … unhinged politics we are experiencing right now is not normal,” UT alumna Hinojosa said. “We are in a crisis period in this country, in this state.”

Snyder moderated the town hall and asked Hinojosa questions students submitted on social media.

One attendee asked if student advocacy is valued or matters to representatives. Hinojosa responded by saying it is one of the most important things students can do.

“Student advocacy really matters and we don’t see enough of it,” Hinojosa said. “I know when the house gallery is full of people like it was on the last day of the regular session, it matters. It changes behaviors on the house floor.”

In regard to the 2018 election cycle, Hinojosa emphasized the need to get voters to the polls in order to close the seat gap in the Texas House. She said it’s crucial to close this gap by 2020 to ensure Democrats have a stronger voice when the legislature draws new district lines after the 2020 census.

“With all the craziness that’s happening, we have a chance,” Hinojosa said. “We need to do everything we can to turn this around.”

Mechanical engineering freshman Shelby Hobohm asked Hinojosa what it is like to be a woman in the Texas House, where there are less than three dozen female representatives out of 150. In response, Hinojosa recalled a day where she was looking down from a balcony in the Capitol onto the House floor.

“It was just a sea of men,” Hinojosa said. “It’s very strange … We need more women in the Texas house. There’s just no question about it.”

Hobohm said she often attempts to engage with her representatives through letters and other forms of communication. But, she said, getting to ask Hinojosa questions in person was exciting.

“It was nice to get a response face-to-face in real time,” Hobohm said. “Normally, you get a postcard from one of their interns with their views written down, and you’re like ‘that’s not what I asked.’”

Snyder said he felt like the town hall was a success and hoped attendees and viewers realized anyone can participate and make a difference in politics.

“I hope that (this town hall) proves that our elected officials are listening,” Snyder said. “It’s important to show people that yeah, your Congressman may be a gerrymandered ultra-right conservative, but you can still make a difference through your advocacy.”