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Vote No Kansas, Douglas County Democrats cheer defeat of constitutional amendment on abortion

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Anxiety turned into hope and then into relief Tuesday night as voting results for Kansas’ abortion amendment came in to election watch parties in Lawrence.

Cheers and celebration broke out at the parties when it became clear that the vote on the amendment would be a resounding “no.”

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“I am feeling really grateful for all the Kansans that worked really hard on this ‘vote no’ issue,” Melinda Lavon, chair of Vote No Kansas, said at her organization’s party, held at Venue 1235 in Lawrence. “It was really fun to see Libertarians and Republicans and Democrats and Socialists and unaffiliated voters all working together to accomplish this tonight.”

The constitutional amendment, if it had passed, would have opened the door for Kansas politicians to ban abortion. Ultimately, voters defeated it by a margin of 59% to 41%.

The Douglas County Democrats’ watch party, held at Maceli’s downtown, featured many local officials, including Lawrence Mayor Courtney Shipley, Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen and City Commissioners Amber Sellers and Bart Littlejohn. Also in attendance were Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, state Rep. Mike Amyx, state Sen. Marci Fransisco and Kansas attorney general candidate Chris Mann.

Some attendees at the parties said they enjoyed being among like-minded people as the results came in.

“My family is pro-life, and I did not want to be necessarily watching the results, that are this important to me, come in in an environment where opinions are differing,” Liberty Rockhold, of Leavenworth, said during the Vote No Kansas watch party. “There have been a lot of heated debates that break out pretty regularly and it gets emotions high because everyone knows we’re not going to come to an agreement on that.”

Another party attendee, Hanna Koontz, was excited that people will still be able to access the medical care they need, especially as people in other midwestern states are losing access to abortion.

Lavon said the outcome of the vote was a triumph of organization.

“There were people from all over the state that learned brand new political advocacy skills,” she said. “There are people in their 50s and 60s that have never been politically active and learned new skills and were able to help those younger than them, and then there were tons of young Kansans who learned how to do new things. What that means is now we can elect more legislators that also support the pro-choice ideas.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times “Save Choice – Vote No August 2nd” signs sit on display during a reproductive justice event on July 16, 2022 at the Lied Center in Lawrence.

Yovana Rodriguez, who translated materials into Spanish for Vote No Kansas during its campaign, said she and her fellow organizers were glad to see their efforts come to fruition.

“I did translations for Vote No for the Spanish-speakers, and it’s really made a big impact,” she said. “So many people in the Spanish-speaking community aren’t as represented, so to have these materials available in both English and Spanish really made a difference.” 

Sam Allison-Natale expressed hope that Kansas has set a precedent for future progressive policies.

“I think what we’re seeing in Kansas right now is that, like much of the rest of the country, when asked directly about policies, people want progressive policies that serve working-class Kansans,” Allison-Natale said during the Vote No Kansas party. “I think [the vote turnout] is an indication of where the Democrats should move toward massively popular, working-class policies that expand people’s rights and improve our quality of life.”

While many Kansans are celebrating this historical moment — especially in Douglas County, where the vote was 81.2% to 18.8% in favor of “no” — there’s still much work to be done, abortion-rights activists and organizers said. 

Many officials who spoke at Maceli’s emphasized that the fight would continue beyond the primary election.

Valdez stressed the importance of the upcoming general election. “November is just as important,” she said. “We need your support to be just as strong the next 98 days.”

Among those races in November is the fight between Mann and Kris Kobach for Kansas Attorney General, which Mann described as “the most stark choice for attorney general … either a career politician [or] a career public servant.”

Lavon said she would be plunging into the next election after taking a small break to rest up from Tuesday night’s victory.

“I’m actually taking a break from the news and from politics until Aug. 15,” she said. “And after that we’re launching what will be a new effort to break the supermajority in the House this fall.”

More results and coverage of the 2022 Kansas Primary Election can be found at this link.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Kansas voters will participate in the general election. You can register to vote, double check your registration and/or request a mail ballot at KSVotes.org. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 18.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Jack Ritter (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student-journalist at Lawrence High School currently serving as the editor-in-chief for The Budget Online.

You can view more of his work for The Budget Online here. Read more of his work for the Times here.

Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of this work for the Times here.

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