Work by the Shockers Vote! Coalition helped Wichita State increase its voting rate for students by 19.2% from 2016, according to the 2020 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. Wichita State’s 2020 voting rate of 68.1% is above the national 66% rate, according to the data compiled by the Tufts University Institute For Democracy & Higher Education.
“Our voter numbers are higher than the national average, which is really a testament to the work we were able to do with the Shockers Vote! Coalition, and the work that was done in the past,” said Gabriel Fonseca, interim director of Student Involvement and Student Government advisor. “We have a responsibility to ensure our students are educated and have the tools and resources they need to participate in the electoral process.”
Wichita State also earned a Silver Seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for nonpartisan student voter participation efforts in the 2020 Election.
The NSLVE Campus Report voting statistics accounted for students who voted in Kansas or in their home state if they registered elsewhere. While the statistics are for all students, Shockers Vote! focused on under-served and returning adult students, groups that scored low in 2016.
Shockers Vote! registered 350 more students in 2020 than in 2016, Fonseca said.
While the presidential election attracted attention, Shockers Vote! wanted to help students understand the importance of state and local elections. On Oct. 22, 2020, Charles Koch Arena served as an early voting site for the general election. Simplifying the registration by using TurboVote also helped, Fonseca said.
Shockers Vote! hosted round tables that allowed candidates to interact with students. It held discussions on government’s role in combating COVID-19, diversity in local politics and the importance of voting. Speakers at the events included Wichita mayor Brandon Whipple, City Council members Cindy Claycomb and Brandon Johnson.
Senate candidates Roger Marshall and Barbara Bollier participated in town halls with students on Zoom in October. Also in October, Wichita State’s College Republicans and College Democrats chapters moderated a discussion on voting.
“Those helped in getting candidates in front of students and students in front of candidates in a variety of different ways,” Fonseca said. “The round tables were effective because it wasn’t a formal setting. They were very student-friendly. It was more of a conversation and they got to know the candidates.”
Fonseca said Shockers Vote! will use the data from the NSLVE report to shape strategies for 2022 and 2024.
“We wanted to see increases in the underserved and the returning adult populations,” he said. “We saw it in underserved. We didn’t see it as much as we wanted in returning adults.”
For students who don’t feel engaged with elections at all levels, Fonseca said, Shockers Vote! needs to continue its work.
“There’s an election every year now and I think that as an institution we have a responsibility to do this kind of work every year, so our students have all the information they need,” he said. “It’s also on us to ensure there are no barriers, as much as we can and within our control, to participate in the electoral process, whether that is having a polling site on campus or helping them in the process of voter registration.”