For a UW referendum to authorize the construction of new university buildings, it must not only pass (I would hope), but 15 percent of eligible student voters must participate. Less than 15 and the vote is not considered legitimate, at least according to by-laws established by the student government. As I've written before, this could lead to some pretty creative election strategies for opponents of whatever the referendum is. From the Cardinal:
The bylaw was created following the approval of the new south campus union in an election in which approximately 6 percent of students voted. However, Bernatz said regardless of turnout, if the referendum is approved, it will move forward to the Board of Regents and Chancellor Biddy Martin.
"ASM was really upset that such a low voter turnout was able to determine the results [on the south campus union]," Nat Up leader Mike Bernatz said. "So they didn't fully understand the bounds of their power and made a rule ... but they don't have the power to do that ... and that rule is strictly advisory."
According to Junger, ASM does not have any binding power to allocate segregated fees to the project if less than 15 percent of students vote.
It's really dumb for Bernatz to be making statements like that. The last thing they need is for their opponents to seize on another aspect of their campaign that's anti-democratic.
I trust Junger knows the rules better than Bernatz on this one. But if Bernatz is wrong, it will be interesting to see what the Regents and chancellor do about the issue if the referendum doesn't get 15 percent. Quite a hullabuloo was made in response to the Union South deal, but ultimately, most people won't care. What if the Regents did it over the summer, when the campus press is asleep and even most of the engaged students are disengaged?
I don't think Biddy Martin will go ahead with the project. She doesn't want to be seen as an opponent of student democracy, even though the case against the 15 percent rule is not without merit. But the people who put the 15 percent rule in place were the elected representatives of the students. To disregard the rules they put in place is to ignore their institutional voice.
Even if there is less than 15 percent turnout, I think the university's response will differ based on the vote results. If there is, say, a 10 percent turnout, but those who voted overwhelmingly supported Nat Up, the university would have little incentive to bully students into accepting the referendum. Just try again next year, do a little more publicity and turn more voters out. The incentive to bully comes if the results are not so favorable. The students don't want it, but we really want a new gym!