How abortion rights supporters won in conservative Kansas

Abortion rights supporters won a huge and surprising victory Tuesday in one of the nation’s most conservative states, with Kansas voters forcefully rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state lawmakers to ban or drastically restrict abortion.

Results were still coming in as the night wore on, but with more than 90% of the ballots counted, abortion rights supporters were ahead by about 18 percentage points, a staggering margin in a state that voted for President Donald J. Trump. in 2020 by a margin of just under 15 percentage points.

Here is an overview of what happened.

As Election Day approached, many observers believed the referendum result would be determined in increasingly Democratic areas like suburban Kansas City — that is, if enough voters turn out there. are returned to compensate for the very conservative tendency of the rest of the State. But opponents of abortion have done surprisingly poorly, even in the reddest places.

Consider far western Kansas, a rural area along the Colorado border that votes mostly Republican. In Hamilton County, which voted 81% for Mr. Trump in 2020, less than 56% chose the anti-abortion position on Tuesday (with about 90% of the vote counted there). In Greeley County, which voted more than 85% for Mr. Trump, only about 60% chose the anti-abortion stance.

We can talk about cities all day, but Kansas is known as a rural Republican state for a reason: Rural Republican areas cover enough of the state to be able to, and almost always do, beat cities. The rejection of the amendment has as much to do with lukewarm support in the redder counties as it does with strong opposition in the bluer ones.

Certainly, however, cities and suburbs deserve some credit. The relatively slim margins of victory for abortion opponents in western Kansas left the door wide open, but abortion-rights supporters still had to step through it, and they did.

Wyandotte County, home to Kansas City, Kansas, voted 65% for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020 but voted 74% for abortion rights on Tuesday. Neighboring Johnson County, the most populous in the state, voted 53% for Mr. Biden but more than 68% for abortion rights.

What was striking, in fact, was how similar the picture was everywhere. From the bluest to the reddest counties, abortion rights have fared better than Mr. Biden and opposition to abortion has fared worse than Mr. Trump.

We won’t know exactly how many people voted, let alone their partisan breakdown or demographics, until the results are fully tallied. But we can already tell that turnout statewide has been much higher than expected — almost as high as it was in the last midterm elections.

About 940,000 Kansans voted in the referendum, according to preliminary estimates by The New York Times, compared to about 1.05 million people in the November 2018 midterm elections. is usually much larger than that.

By Tuesday, the Kansas secretary of state’s office was predicting a turnout of about 36%. But as the vote ended, Secretary of State Scott Schwab told reporters that anecdotal evidence indicated turnout could be as high as 50%, an extraordinary increase from what was expected. The Times estimate of 940,000 would mean a turnout of 49%.

The voters who should have turned out Tuesday, under normal circumstances, would have been mostly Republicans. That’s not just because registered Republicans significantly outnumber registered Democrats in Kansas, but also because most of the contested races on the ballot were Republican primaries, giving Democrats little reason to vote — except to oppose the constitutional amendment.

Abortion opponents’ strategic decisions about the amendment began with choosing to put it on Tuesday’s ballot in the first place. The primary electorate was expected to be small and disproportionately Republican, and it seemed reasonable to assume that the amendment would have a better chance of passing in this environment than in a general election ballot.

The annulment of Roe v. Wade in June turned that strategy on its head, turning what might otherwise have been an under-the-radar ballot measure into a nationwide referendum on abortion rights. Many voters might have previously dismissed the stakes as moot: If the U.S. Constitution protected the right to abortion, how important did it really matter that the Kansas Constitution did? But then the Supreme Court struck down the first part of that equation, and Kansas abruptly became an abortion-access island in a sea of ​​Southern and Plains states banning the procedure.

Groups on both sides showered the state with millions of dollars in advertising. Democrats who would otherwise have stayed home, knowing their party had few competitive primaries on the ballot, turned out to specifically vote against the amendment. Proponents of abortion rights have been seized by this great political motivation: anger.

On Tuesday, the results were clear.

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