Kansas abortion referendum drives record number of voters to polls

Kansas abortion referendum drives record number of voters to polls

Nearly half of state’s registered voters turned out in first electoral test of US abortion rights

A long line of voters in Wichita, Kansas on Monday.

Most primary elections only turn out a small portion of the electorate – but this year’s Kansas primary was unlike any other in the state.

This year’s primary ballot included a question to decide whether to stop the state’s constitution from protecting abortion rights, which could have paved the way for the state legislature to completely ban abortion.

On Tuesday, Kansans resoundingly voted against the anti-abortion measure – and turned out in record numbers to do so.

With 95% of precincts reporting, more than 900,000 voters turned out for the primary election, which accounts for nearly half of registered voters. It’s the kind of turnout the state usually sees in general elections.

After the US supreme court overturned federal protections for abortion in June, the Kansas primary was the first electoral test of abortion rights in the country.

Bar chart showing turnout for primary and general elections, showing 2022 had record turnout comparable to general elections

Not only was turnout high, but prior to the election Kansans were also registering to vote in record numbers. As of July 2022, weeks after the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade, about 1.9m people registered to vote – comparable only to the 2020 general election when Donald Trump was vying for a second term.

A typical primary election only draws the most engaged citizens because they’re only choosing which candidate will represent each political party in the general election. Turnout in primaries is usually between 20 to 30% of registered voters.

More than 47% of registered voters participated on Tuesday, with tens of thousands of votes still to be counted.

This comes after a concerted Republican effort to sway the vote and clear the path for abortion restrictions.

Last year, the Republican state legislature put this measure on the primary ballot, rather than the November general election ballot, likely because they knew primary voters tend to be more conservative than the overall electorate. In addition, the language Republicans put on the ballot was confusing and misleading. For example, the ballot language says the amendment would stop state funding for abortion, even though the state already bans public funding for abortion.

A poll in late 2021 found that more than 60% of Kansans oppose making abortion completely illegal – 44% of the state’s voters are registered Republicans and 26% are registered Democrats. With nearly all the votes counted on Wednesday, about 59% of voters said they did not want to remove the state constitution’s protection for abortion right.