Voter turnout could be an uphill battle for infrastructure referendum


Next March, Wichita State students will vote on a proposal to raise the infrastructure student fee by roughly $90 a semester to upgrade campus facilities for each college. The referendum will be run on ShockerSync — the same platform used for student government elections, which are held in April.

Student Body President Kenon Brinkley, a member of the “Shock the Future” infrastructure steering committee, said administrators intentionally scheduled the referendum for before SGA elections so that the proposal would not become a central focus of the campaign.

“They want this referendum vote to happen before campaigning starts because they don’t want it to be centered around someone’s election platform and say ‘We’re for this’ or ‘We’re against this’ to rile opinions strongly one way or the other,” Brinkley told The Sunflower last month.

Combining the referendum and SGA election could spell doom for the infrastructure proposal, Brinkley said.

“For a lot of people, it’s easier to rally against something than rally for something, and that happens at all levels of politics,” Brinkley said. “Oppositional politics is a lot easier than advocacy politics and it’s easy to rally against the idea of paying more when increases are just inherently going to be unpopular on their own.”

If history is any indication, turning students out to vote could be an uphill battle. Just 1,554 students — 12.3 percent of the student body — voted in last year’s SGA election, which Brinkley won unopposed. In 2017, 19.7 percent of students turned out.

In 2010, when WSU raised student fees to renovate the Rhatigan Student Center, just 8.6 percent of students responded to an email survey asking if they supported the proposal.

Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall told The Sunflower last November that the infrastructure steering committee will work hard to generate student interest in the lead-up to the referendum.

“The real work’s happening in January when students start maybe going to classes and talking about it — they go to key student populations and start talking about it, we do tabling,” Hall said. “So, from January up until the first part of March, this is something that it’s hard for a student to say they didn’t know about it, and then, hopefully, students will vote.”

Max Karst is a sophomore health sciences representative on the Shock the Future steering committee. As a member of its logistics committee, Karst said promoting student turnout is a top priority.

“Right now we are planning videos, posters, display cases, buttons, t-shirts, emails, and many more forms of communication,” Karst wrote in an email.

State law requires WSU to hold a referendum before raising student fees to bond money, but university administrators have signaled that they may not settle for an unsatisfactory result in March. Brinkley said students can expect to pay for facilities upgrades even if the initial referendum fails — indicating that the university would simply put forward another proposal with different infrastructure priorities.