Kansas voters overwhelmingly shot down an amendment that would have stripped their constitution of its state Supreme Court-interpreted abortion protections Tuesday, a surprising outcome on the heels of a wave of last-minute enthusiasm from those furious at the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
For observers looking to Kansas as a bellwether, the first state to put abortion to a vote since the Dobbs decision, the election may prove a compelling data point given the built-in advantages to the pro-amendment side.
Republican lawmakers purposefully put the amendment vote on the sleepy August primary ballot, while slating two other unrelated amendments for the November general election. In Kansas, primary elections usually attract a much smaller pool of much more conservative voters, as independents and low-propensity voters drop out. The state in general supports abortion rights, mirroring national sentiment.
On Tuesday, it seemed the plan for an under-the-radar constitutional amendment had backfired, with Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab telling reporters earlier in the day that voter turnout was significantly higher than expected.
More than 60 percent of voters had rejected the amendment when networks, including NBC and CNN, began to call the race shortly before 11 p.m. ET. Roughly 78 percent of the vote had been counted. Preliminary results suggested that Tuesday’s turnout had come close to doubling 2018’s primary turnout.
The initial GOP attempt to schedule the vote on a primary ballot was stymied by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats uncomfortable with the idea that anti-abortion crusaders were purposefully seeking an election day with a pool of voters more likely to vote for the amendment.
But the 2020 election swept out some of those moderates and swept in more conservatives, giving Republicans the margins they needed to schedule the amendment vote for this month.
The anti-amendment coalition, then, wasn’t just fighting the amendment, which is confusingly worded and deceptively named — it also had to completely change voter behaviors. There are more unaffiliated voters in Kansas than there are registered Democrats, and those people almost never have any reason to vote in the partisan primaries.
State legislators also passed a law that made organizing against the amendment more difficult, and abortion opponents pushed to remove drop boxes before the vote. In the days before Tuesday’s vote, a wave of deceptive texts swept the state, urging to vote “yes” on the amendment, which the texts falsely claimed “will give women a choice.”
Given all of those obstacles, the victory for abortion rights is significant, and indicative of the energy unleashed by the Supreme Court’s decision. Abortion will remain accessible in Kansas (with some restrictions), a relief for women to its east and south now living in states where the procedure is virtually impossible to get.