How the Statewide Misinterpretation of Amendment Language Could Have Skewed the Results in Either Direction.
The U.S. Abortion Debate Rages On in 2022
Article Written by Jett James Pruitt
On Tuesday, August 2, 2022, Kansas voters rejected a state constitutional amendment affirming there was no legal right for access to abortion. Called the ‘Value Them Both Amendment’, it would have permitted the state legislature to impose stricter laws on abortion.
With more than 95% of results in to date, nearly 59% of individuals voted against the amendment, while 41% voted in favor. As illustrated by The New York Times, opposition against the amendment was mostly concentrated in urban areas around Topeka (the state’s capital) and Wichita.
Considering that former Republican President Donald J. Trump won the state by 15 percentage points in 2020, many expected the measure to pass. As such, the defeat of the proposed amendment is being hailed by liberals as a watershed for the pro-choice movement. Many Democratic strategists are hopeful that the issue of abortion will sway voters to their side in the upcoming November midterms.
Kansas Pro-Choice Supporters on August 2, 2022
One Politico article called the result “a political earthquake with the potential to reshape the entire midterm campaign.”
In the article, political analyst Alice Miranda Ollstein writes: “The vote . . . may signal a warning to Republican lawmakers across the country that the Roe decision may generate considerable backlash over the coming months and years. Politically, the outcome is sure to reverberate across the country and buoy the Democrats’ bid to capitalize on the overturning of Roe in the midterm battle for Congress this fall.”
So, is the Kansas Referendum a harbinger for the rest of the nation? Will abortion access be a key factor in voters’ decisions in 2022 and beyond?
Despite newfound optimism for Democrats, we are not so sure the August 2nd Referendum accurately represents the will of the people of Kansas. Here's why:
As pointed out by Alvin Chang of the UK newspaper, The Guardian, the wording on the ballot may have been confusing to voters, muddying the results of the election.
Specifically, the way officials wrote the question on the referendum may have made voters unintentionally pick the wrong answer. He writes in an August 2nd article:
“This election may not be an accurate picture, because the text on the ballot is so hard to understand clearly. Republicans in the state legislature wrote the language on the ballot last year, and ever since experts have argued it is purposefully confusing and misleading.”
Chang clarifies that voting ‘yes’ indicated support for the Value Them Both Amendment (removing state constitutional protections for abortion access), while voting ‘no’ meant the constitution would continue to protect abortion rights.
In other words, ‘yes’ meant “no abortion rights”, while ‘no’ meant “yes to abortion rights.”
"Value Them Both" Lawn Signs in Kansas
Chang identifies additional flaws on the ballot. Among other things, he notes that the language of the proposed amendment (located above the section where people voted) could have been misinterpreted as current Kansas law. This may have made voters select an option which was opposite of their intent (to read Chang’s full article, please click here).
Aside from bad wording on the ballot, it appears some grassroots activists were either confused or deliberately misleading voters prior to the election.
According to The Kansas City Star, a number of constituents received anonymous text messages stating “Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice” one day before the election. The problem? This was not true. Once again, voting yes meant allowing the state legislature to restrict access to abortion. In this case, yes meant ‘no’ abortion.
David Hammet, president of a youth voter registration organization in Kansas, told the newspaper “We’ve certainly seen dirty tricks, but never this level of deception aimed to make people vote the opposite way than they intend to.”
Not only was the Amendment language difficult to understand for even legal experts and well-read college graduates, it may have been beyond confusing for the eight percent of Kansas' population who are illiterate and the more than 25 percent that did not finish high school.
Despite this, Democrats fully celebrated the results as a win for Choice.
Kansas Pro-Choice Supporters on August 2, 2022
In no way do we believe that the August 2nd Kansas Election was fraudulent or illegitimate. However, it is evident that the language on the ballot caused confusion and gave mischievous individuals an opportunity to target vulnerable voters. As such, the likelihood that both pro-choice and pro-life individuals voted in the opposite direction is high.
For this reason, the Kansas Referendum results should not be considered a litmus test on the abortion debate in America. It's a flawed sample that the American media needs to stop boasting as a win for Democrats, even though the actual results may have still leaned in their favor.
But more importantly, we need to fight across America to keep Referendum language clear, concise, and direct where all voters can easily understand how they are voting.
In the end, everyone wins when the will of the American people is accurately represented.
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