There’s no place like home.
No statement rang more true on primary election night as the country turned its attention to my home state of Kansas. We’re known for 3 things: The “Wizard of Oz”, the amazing barbeque (subjective, I know), and the conservative voter base. But a recent ballot initiative on abortion shook that last notion up.
In a referendum, Kansas voters decided between protecting abortion rights or passing a constitutional amendment to restrict access to abortions. The “Value them Both” ballot measure that would allow the state legislature to ban abortion–a seemingly predicted anti-abortion movement win for red Kansas–was met with resistance. By a vote of 59% to 41%, the people of Kansas “voted no” causing shock waves across the country. A “political earthquake” no one saw coming.
So what did the political analysts and the polls fail to capture? Kansas, like its population, is complex. As a first-generation Latina Kansan, issues like abortion, student debt, COVID, housing, and climate change are pressing concerns. We’re living in challenging times. The COVID pandemic is still ongoing and the cost of living is at an all-time high. I, like many young voters, have found myself questioning the validity of voting. But, my hunger for political participation was once again fueled by the Supreme Court’s decision in late June to overturn Roe vs. Wade. While I experienced anger and a loss of faith in our system, it was clear that inaction was not an option.
Millions of other voters in Kansas, including my sisters, friends, and cousins felt the same way and showed up on election day to make our voices heard. Kansas saw a spike in voter registrations following the Supreme Court decision. According to Vote.org, “The site recorded a 1,038 percent increase in voter registrations on the 24th [day of the Supreme Court ruling]. That means more than 10 times the number of people in Kansas registered to vote through the site than did a week earlier.” and resulted in the biggest voter turnout for a Kansas primary.
The end of Roe vs Wade has shifted the electoral priorities of young voters and Democrats must meet them in this moment. Gen-Z–those of us born in the late 90s to early 2000s–are in college, looking to buy our first homes, building our families, and trying to ensure there’s a healthy planet left for our children.
The fact of the matter is abortion rights are directly affecting young people. According to research by Advocates for Youth, 1 in 4 women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and Young women 20-24 account for 31 percent of all abortions, while ages 15-19 account for 10 percent of all abortions. Abortions are more common and necessary than we’re often led to believe. Did you know that young women in college are three times more likely to experience sexual violence? And they often lack the resources needed to travel for abortion care. Abortion restrictions change the outcome of our lives. We cannot underestimate how much individuals value their constitutional rights.
Adding to the complexity of midwest Latino voters, in many rural areas God, guns, and country are the rule of order. Primary messaging played into the stereotypical assumption that older Hispanic individuals tend to hold more conservative views on abortion rights influenced by their predominantly Roman Catholic faith. The broad “vote YES” and “Value them both” campaign was largely backed by the Catholic Church. Coming from a majority Hispanic town, religion is a community pillar. “Vote yes” signs were lined outside every church in my town.
Although, unlike their parents, U.S.-born Hispanic individuals are more open to the pro-choice movement. “A 2007 joint survey by the respected Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 65 percent of first-generation U.S. Hispanics believe abortion should be illegal. But among second-generation U.S. Hispanics, that percentage drops to 43 percent”. Outlawing abortions and limiting access will predominantly affect young brown and Black women. Latina women face both cultural and linguistic barriers making abortion a key issue in securing their freedom.
For years, Democrats have struggled to identify with and mobilize young voters. Keeping the decisive pro-choice win in Kansas and the looming November election in mind, young voters have identified abortion as one of the leading issues pushing them to the ballot box. Now, if they want any chance of winning, it’s time for Democrats to listen. In the Kansas primary, I saw the power of organizing and the power of youth as hundreds of volunteers turned out weekend after weekend to register folks to vote, canvas, and educate.
This historic win not only reaffirmed the importance of voting but the possibility of flipping deeply conservative and usually reliably Republican states. You read it here first: If Kansas can do it, so can you.