Post last updated at 4:05 p.m. Wednesday:
In an outcome that may ripple through politics nationwide, Kansas voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated a constitutional amendment that could have led to the banning of abortion in the state.
The vote, coming just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, was seen as the first major public referendum on the abortion question in the nation.
Despite predictions that the vote would be close, Kansas voters handily defeated the amendment. With about 87% of the vote reported Tuesday night, “no” held a commanding 59.7% to 40.3% lead: 491,668 votes to 331,564 “yes” votes.
In Douglas County, the margin was even more lopsided: 81.2-18.8% voting “no.”
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew estimated late Tuesday that about 40,000 votes were cast, representing nearly half of the registered voters in the county.
“I’ve got to go look back historically,” Shew said. “That starts to get into like, general numbers in a governor’s race. I mean, that’s huge.”
An update shortly after midnight Wednesday on the county’s website showed more than 45,000 ballots cast and counting — representing nearly 56% of voters.
At the Douglas County Democrats’ watch party at Maceli’s downtown, cheers and celebrations erupted as NBC announced that Kansas had rejected the proposed constitutional amendment and protected current abortion rights.
“It’s an amazing time for Kansans. Kansans did the right thing,” said Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, who was in attendance. “I’m really overwhelmed right now. It’s not even close, and I think that just shows the resilience and who we are as Kansans and protecting democracy and protecting rights. The people have spoken pretty loudly.”
“Instead of using this as a referendum to do harm to families in Kansas we’ve now solidified choice,” said Lawrence City Commissioner Amber Sellers, also in attendance.
Sellers touched on some of the political pundits’ thinking about what the Kansas vote might mean nationally: “The vote in August was just the tip of the iceberg and depending on how that vote went, it would open up so much more, and it could open up for the good or it could open the other way. Today’s vote, we came together as a state to say we know what the constitution says we have a right to.”
Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen chimed in on Twitter:
Violet Amouak, who was monitoring the voting at the Vote No Kansas watch party at Venue 1235 in Lawrence, said, “I think that we used our resources effectively and I am totally reassured in my constitutional freedom in Kansas and my bodily autonomy because our language in our state constitution guarantees that. And it’s not just about abortion — it’s about having the right to make self determined, informed decisions about my life. I feel so reassured that your average Kansan cares about these rights.”
Amouak said they were on a fellowship this summer with Planned Parenthood and, through that, worked with Kansans for Constitutional Freedom mostly doing voter outreach, spending eight hours a week just calling voters.
Complicating the higher than normal voter turnout, Shew said about 25% of poll workers missed work due to a mixture of COVID, colds and flus. Supervisors shifted staff to precincts with historically higher turnouts in an attempt to accommodate the demand.
“For quite some time, Douglas County has been voting heavy on advance, so our Election Day hasn’t been really heavy,” Shew said. “And I’ve got to look, but this is probably one of our heaviest Election Day turnouts in a very long time. And I know they’re tired, but the poll workers did a phenomenal job.”
Coming in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to vacate Roe, the vote on the Kansas amendment has been seen as a bellwether of the nation’s attitude toward abortion. Many commentators suggested the result may force Republican candidates to tread more carefully on the issue while emboldening Democrats to hammer the abortion issue harder to gain votes in other races in November’s midterms.
Antiabortion proponents had added the amendment to the usually sleepy August primary ballot in the hopes of getting it passed without a lot of attention. But the Supreme Court decision shined a bright light on the issue, mobilizing Democrats and moderate Republicans and, perhaps more importantly, bringing out large numbers of unaffiliated voters who wouldn’t usually vote in party primaries.
The amendment, if passed, would have changed the Kansas constitution, which currently allows abortion, to make it possible for the state Legislature to pass new laws banning it. Republican leaders had said they were prepared to pass legislation that would have banned abortion in most if not all forms if the amendment passed. The “no” vote precludes that.
The outcome of the vote left the Lawrence women who shared their abortion stories with us last month awash in relief.
Two who shared their abortion experiences — referred to as Lynette and Autumn to protect their identifies — were reticent to celebrate early Tuesday evening. But as the returns piled up into a steady victory for the no side, the women were able to decompress.
“I’ve been staying away from the TV, phone, etc., because I was so nervous about the results. I am so incredibly relieved,” Lynette said. “I can honestly say I didn’t have a lot of hope going into today, so I’m pleasantly surprised and relieved!”
Kayla Deere, who shared her own abortion experience with us last month, said she hoped the vote sent a message to politicians.
“I wish I could say that I’m excited, but I’m still heartbroken for all of the women in the trigger states that have lost their rights, I hope that this victory can help them sooner than later,” she said. “The Supreme Court of the United States did not do their job when they overturned Roe v. Wade, so let’s celebrate tonight, then rally to make the basic right to bodily autonomy something that every American has. We’re just getting started.”
Kansans for Life and the “Value Them Both” Coalition, the groups that had advocated for the amendment, conceded defeat and blamed the media for the loss. “Sadly, the mainstream media propelled the left’s false narrative, contributing to the confusion that misled Kansans about the amendment,” the groups said in a statement, calling the defeat “a temporary setback.”
— Tricia Masenthin, Maya Hodison, Cuyler Dunn, Jack Ritter, Conner Mitchell and Mark Potts contributed to this report.
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The “Value Them Both” amendment would pave the way to a complete ban of abortion in Kansas despite language implying otherwise, panelists said Saturday. If the majority votes “yes” in August, legislators could ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest, and risk of death.