A Republican legislature places a conservative amendment to the state constitution on the primary ballot rather than the general election ballot. The primary usually has far fewer Democratic contests, so primary voters are usually far fewer than in the general election and consist primarily of the most conservative activist base of the Republican party. The Republican legislature, as well as many observers across the political spectrum, thus figures they have a Yes vote on their conservative amendment in the bag. But on primary day, turnout surges and the voters resoundingly reject the amendment.
That lightning has struck twice this summer, first in the surprise defeat of Amendment C in South Dakota in June, and now in Kansas voters’ rejection of an effort to remove women’s right to abortion from the Kansas constitution. With 95% of precincts reporting, the deceptively named “Value Them Both” amendment has failed 41.2% to 58.8%. That’s a remarkable result for the first direct test of voters’ sentiment on abortion since the Alito Court repealed Roe v. Wade:
The vote stands as a major win for abortion rights advocates, preserving access in a red state as the procedure is banned or severely restricted in much of the region. It wasn’t just urban counties, like Democratic-leaning Wyandotte County, that turned out to protect abortion rights. Rural counties like Osage, Franklin and Osage also favored vote “no” by significant margins.
…The vote upholds a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that, in response to an attempt to ban a common 2nd trimester abortion procedure, said Kansans had a right to bodily autonomy and therefore the right to terminate a pregnancy.
The movement against the amendment succeeded in turning a wide swath of no voters out, despite the amendment’s placement on a primary ballot many assumed would favor Republicans. They were able to keep margins in rural counties smaller than anticipated.
Secretary of State Scott Schwab said early in the evening that anecdotal evidence indicated the turnout could match the 2008 presidential race – 63.3% [Katie Bernard and Lisa Gutierrez, “‘No’ Prevails: Kansas Votes to Protect Abortion Rights in State Constitution,” Kansas City Star, 2022.08.03].
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said last night that the voters have “rejected divisive legislation that jeopardized our economic future & put women’s health care access at risk.” Governor Kelly said the defeat of this anti-abortion amendment helps make Kansas “the best state in the nation to live freely & do business.”
Kansas still has a raft of oppressive statutory restrictions on abortion—a 24-hour waiting period, forced anti-abortion “counseling”, forced and medically unnecessary ultrasound, a ban on insurance coverage for most abortions, a ban on telemedicine abortion consultations. But Kansas voters have made clear that they want to use their Alito-given rights to protect women’s bodily autonomy and equal citizenship.
South Dakota showed similar surprise moxie in standing up to Republican election rigging and anti-freedom legislation in the June 2022 primary vote on Amendment C. Let’s see if South Dakota can repeat that result in 2024.