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Kansas abortion amendment draws young voters to the polls

 Reeya Kamath (left), and her friends, Hannah Bacud and Anjali Singh, vote early in the 2022 primary election.
Reeya Kamath
/
Courtesy
Reeya Kamath (left), and her friends, Hannah Bacud and Anjali Singh, vote early in the 2022 primary election.

Many young people are among the newly registered voters participating in the Aug. 2 election.

With a state constitutional amendment about abortion on the Aug. 2 primary ballot, young voters say they’re energized to vote and participate more in the civic engagement process.

In Douglas County, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the election office received more than 1,000 new voter registrations compared to about 500 the month before.

Sam Lopez lives in Lawrence and was one of the new voters who registered recently in Douglas County.

“I think it just … made us realize that we can have … a direct impact on the government and the way that they work,” Lopez said.

Along with voting, young people also are participating in voter outreach efforts statewide, such as New Frontiers. The group is a community engagement project that focuses on empowering young people from marginalized backgrounds in southwest Kansas.

Angelica Plata works with New Frontiers in Dodge City and registered people to vote before the primary.

 Angelica Plata
Courtesy
Angelica Plata

“I do believe that more people are more eager to get registered,” Plata said, “especially with all the buzz that's been surrounding the amendment on Aug. 2.”

As part of her work, Plata also knocked on doors in her community to help people make a plan for voting in the primary – including a voter who hadn’t participated in an election recently.

“That person hadn't voted in like a hot minute,” Plata said, “And, you know, they were just so angry that they were going to go out and do it for the first time in a while.”

Back in Lawrence, Kenna McNally participates in weekly voter outreach efforts with Kansas State House Rep. Christina Haswood, whom she’s worked with before she could legally vote.

With the amendment on the ballot, she said this election is important in deciding the future of reproductive rights in Kansas.

 Kenna McNally
Courtesy
Kenna McNally

“This is really something where every single vote counts,” McNally said. “It's going to be a very close election and getting every single person out to the polls is crucial.”

In a recent poll by co/efficient based in Kansas City, 47% of likely primary voters said they would vote for the amendment, with 43% voting against. About 10 percent were undecided.

When you look at voters ages 18 to 34, 75% say they would vote against the amendment.

With young people more likely to support abortion, getting them to the polls could be crucial for the Vote No campaign, according to Wichita State political scientist Neal Allen. That might be easier to do this election.

“So as a kind of issue vote, it might actually engage younger people more than an election where what we're doing is choosing one member of a political party,” Allen said.

But in Kansas, there’s still a base of young voters who are against abortion.

“One of the advantages of the yes side is that they have been working on this issue for several years,” Allen said, “and they're prepared to activate their younger supporters through existing social networks, particularly those connected to religious groups.”

Getting young people involved in the political engagement process can also be impactful to families as a whole, as Reeya Kamath’s family in Wichita discovered.

Kamath’s parents are immigrants and not as knowledgeable about politics, she said. But as Kamath got more civically engaged with the Mayor’s Youth Council and Root the Power, her parents took more of an interest.

“Through just being able to talk to them personally, I think we've all learned a lot more … about local politics,” she said, “and they've definitely become more involved in local politics, in terms of just like voting and that type of thing.”

With the election looming, Kamath said older generations shouldn’t dismiss younger voters.

“To some of the older people who may be questioning whether … young people really have a place in the political world, I would say that … that place is already there," Kamath said. “And you know, people are already doing the work that they doubt we can.”
Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Kylie Cameron, a Kansas native, is a News Lab intern at KMUW. A political science and journalism major, she also serves as the editor in chief for The Sunflower, Wichita State’s student newspaper.