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How Abortion Rights Supporters Won in Conservative Kansas

Abortion rights supporters took a huge and surprising victory on Tuesday in one of the country’s most conservative states, with Kansas voters resolutely rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state legislators to ban or significantly restrict abortion.

The results were still rolling in as the night wore on, but with more than 90 percent of the vote counted, the pro-abortion rights side was about 18 percentage points ahead, 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’s a look at what happened.

As Election Day began, many observers believed the outcome of the referendum would be determined in increasingly Democratic areas like the suburbs of Kansas City — that is, by whether enough voters turned out to counter the very conservative propensity of the rest of the state. to compensate. But abortion opponents fared surprisingly poorly, even in the reddest spots.

Think far west Kansas, a rural region along the Colorado border that has a predominantly Republican vote. In Hamilton County, which voted 81 percent for Trump in 2020, fewer than 56 percent voted for the anti-abortion stance on Tuesday (where about 90 percent of the vote was counted). In Greeley County, which voted more than 85 percent for Trump, only about 60 percent took the anti-abortion stance.

We could talk all day about the cities, but Kansas is known as a rural Republican state for a reason: rural Republican areas cover enough of the state that they can drown out the cities, and almost always do. The rejection of the amendment is due to lukewarm support in the reddest provinces as well as strong opposition in the bluest.

But the cities and suburbs certainly deserve some credit. The relatively narrow margins of victory for abortion opponents in western Kansas left the door wide open, but abortion rights advocates still had to get through it, and they did.

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

What was striking was the extent to which the image was the same everywhere. From the bluest to the reddest counties, abortion rights outperformed Mr. Biden, and the abortion opposition outperformed Mr. Trump.

We won’t know exactly how many people voted, let alone their partisan distribution or demographics, until the results are fully counted. But we can already say that turnout across the state was much higher than expected – almost as high as 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. Which.

Before Tuesday, the Kansas Secretary of State predicted a turnout of about 36 percent. But as the vote ended, Secretary of State Scott Schwab told reporters that anecdotal evidence indicated turnout could reach 50 percent, an extraordinary increase from what was expected. The Times’ 940,000 estimate would represent a 49 percent turnout.

The voters expected to turn up Tuesday under normal circumstances would be overwhelmingly Republicans. That’s not only because the number of registered Republicans is significantly greater than the number of registered Democrats in Kansas, but also because most of the contested races on the ballot were Republican primaries, leaving Democrats with little reason to vote — other than to oppose the constitutional amendment.

The strategic decisions of abortion opponents surrounding the amendment started with the choice to put it to the vote on Tuesday. The primary electorate was expected to be small and disproportionately Republican, and it seemed a reasonable assumption that the amendment would stand a better chance of passing in that environment than in a general election vote.

The overthrow of Roe v. Wade in June turned that strategy on its head, turning what would otherwise have been an under-the-radar vote into a nationally scrutinized referendum on abortion rights. Many voters would rather have seen the bet as theoretical: If the U.S. Constitution protected abortion rights, how much did it really matter if the Kansas Constitution did? But then the Supreme Court reversed the first part of that equation, and Kansas abruptly became an island of abortion access in a sea of ​​Southern and Plains states that banned the procedure.

Groups on both sides covered the state with millions of dollars worth of advertisements. Democrats who would otherwise have stayed home, knowing their party had few competitive primaries, turned out to vote specifically against the amendment. Abortion rights advocates were gripped by that great political motivation: anger.

The results were clear on Tuesday.

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