October 7, 2022

In a reliably conservative state, one that then-President Donald Trump won in 2020 by 15 points over Joe Biden, an amendment that would have denied women the right to an abortion under the state constitution was soundly defeated on Tuesday, delivering a stunning victory his supporters abortion access.

The results in kansas jolted conventional wisdom about the midterm elections, and flagging abortion rights could be front and center as voters head to the polls in November.

The “Value Them Both” amendment that appeared on Kansas’ Aug. 2 primary ballot would have stripped the state’s constitutional right to abortion in Kansas, opening the way for Republican lawmakers to pass legislation that could further restrict or even ban abortion in the state. It was the first time abortion rights went directly on the ballot since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade, leaving it up to the states whether abortion remains legal.

As it stands today, 59 percent of Kansas voters voted to keep abortion rights constitutionally protected in the state, according to preliminary results from the secretary of state’s office. Only 41% voted to repeal this constitutional protection.

Election 2022-Kansas-Abortion
In this Thursday, July 14, 2022 photo, a sign in a yard in Merriam, Kansas, urges voters to oppose a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to allow lawmakers to further restrict or ban abortions. Opponents of the measure believe it will lead to an abortion ban in Kansas.

John Hanna / AP

“We really built a coalition of partners that was broad and diverse and spanned the political spectrum,” said Ashley Ohl, a spokeswoman for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, which led efforts to reject the amendment. Working with a range of organizations and local groups, they knocked on tens of thousands of doors and made hundreds of thousands of calls. He noted that they were able to engage on the issue in a non-partisan conversation. “It’s a personal decision, and that was also key in our messaging.”

While analysis of who showed up is ongoing, putting abortion on the ballot in Kansas resulted in a massive voter turnout that surpassed any other Kansas primary. The numbers looked more like those of a presidential election.

According to unofficial results, more than 908,000 people voted in the primary on the issue. Tens of thousands of people who supported the amendment didn’t even vote for other statewide offices or in congressional primaries.

Recent midterm and presidential primary turnout in the state has hovered around 20-35%. Turnout on Tuesday appeared to be close to 50%. By comparison, only 457,598 voted in the 2018 midterm primary. Tuesday’s results even exceeded any midterm general election turnout except 2018 when just over 1 million Kansans voted.

It’s all the more significant when critics of the amendment accused Republican lawmakers of choosing to put the measure on the primary ballot on the assumption it would be more likely to pass with traditionally lower primary voter turnout.

While the Aug. 2 primary election fell short of turnout in the November 2020 presidential election, where more than 1.3 million people voted, those who voted against repealing abortion rights fared better than Joe Biden in counties across the state – not only in cities and suburbs. but also in rural areas.

In 2020, Mr. Biden won only five of Kansas’ 105 counties. On the abortion issue, those who oppose the amendment — and support abortion rights — prevailed in 19 counties. In all five counties Mr. Biden won, anti-amendment voters outnumbered him by double digits. Majorities in counties including Sedgwick, home to Wichita, and surrounding areas where Trump won, also voted against the amendment. In some of the counties where Trump had his biggest margins in 2020, those who supported the amendment — that is, those who oppose abortion rights — had double-digit gains.

While turnout soared for the primaries, voter registration also increased in the run-up to the election after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which left states to decide abortion access. Republicans have a huge registration advantage over Democrats in Kansas. There are more than 851,000 registered Republicans in the state compared to just over 495,000 Democrats. More than 560,000 voters are unaffiliated.

As part of the effort to defeat the amendment, organizers worked specifically to target moderate Republicans, particularly in the suburbs, to help build their winning coalition.

At the same time, after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, voter registrations also increased in the state. Vote.org reported a more than 960 percent increase in people starting the voter registration process through the organization’s website since the two weeks before the court’s June 24 ruling.

“When you have an election where almost a million people are voting, new registrants in the last month aren’t going to make a difference by themselves,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a political data company. “But the reason I think it’s relevant is that it gives us a sense of where the tension is, who was really involved in this election.”

Bonnier found that women accounted for 70 percent of all new registered voters in the state as of June 24, a number never seen before. When he looked at the 2020 election, he found that registration by gender was pretty evenly split. “It just doesn’t happen,” Bonnier said.

Data from the Kansas secretary of state’s office showed that Democrats had more registered voters than Republicans around the June 24 decision. Even more are registered as unaffiliated voters.

Reaching out to unaffiliated voters was a critical part of the strategy for those fighting the amendment.

The group Kansans for Constitutional Freedom was founded specifically for the abortion vote, and its approach, from the beginning, looked beyond traditional liberal voters. Campaign manager Rachel Sweet said, “I think there’s a lot more data coming out about exactly what the coalition of KCF voters looked like, but we decided to reach out to unaffiliated voters like we would any other voter in the state.”

The coalition believes the outcome of the vote is unique for several reasons. But she plans to continue the fight to protect abortion access in Kansas. Members of the group have already spoken with like-minded organizations in other states where abortion measures are on the ballot.

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