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Johnson County sees spike in voter registrations since abortion ruling: 'Emotions are high'

Two yard signs sit in neighborhood lawns. The one on left reads "Value her Choice." The one on the right reads "Vote Yes!"
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Neighbors along 96th Street in Overland Park display competing sentiments regarding the Aug. 2 vote in Kansas regarding the abortion amendment.

In the last week, the Johnson County Election Office says it has fielded well over 1,000 inquiries regarding early voting and voter registration ahead of next month’s vote in Kansas, which features a question on abortion.

Election and party officials in Johnson County report a spike in political activity since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week overturning Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for new abortion bans and other restrictions to go into place.

The ruling trains a spotlight on Kansas, where there will be a vote on August 2 on an amendment, known as “Value Them Both,” which would change the state constitution to remove abortion as a protected right.

If approved, the amendment would make it possible for state lawmakers to impose new abortion restrictions starting during next year’s legislative session.

Requests for voter registration forms and advance mail ballots in Johnson County jumped after the news broke last Friday about the high court’s ruling, local officials say.

Johnson County Democrats saw a run on signs urging a “No” vote on the amendment, with donations and requests for signs, bumper stickers and volunteer opportunities in opposition to the amendment rolling in as soon as the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Deann Mitchell, chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party, said.

Mitchell said the party received 2,000 signs last Wednesday. They were all gone within 24 hours after the decision was announced on Friday.

“Johnson County residents, female and male, are outraged by Roe being overturned. Emotions are high and we are ready to vote to have our voices heard,” she said.

Meanwhile, county Republicans say they have also been busy with volunteers coming in at a brisk pace to work and put up signs in favor of the amendment, said Marisel Sanchez Walston, county GOP chair.

“The Supreme Court decision was very important. It has definitely injected a sort of urgency,” to get the amendment passed, she said.

Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman says he also noticed an uptick in activity right after the decision.

The office was hit with “well over” 1,000 email requests and numerous phone calls for advance mail ballots and new voter registration, he said, adding he expects the number of registered voters to top 450,000 by the end of this month.

The registration trends in Johnson County don’t seem to match the numbers in a recent Associated Press story that said Democratic gains in the suburbs in 2020 may be threatened by voters switching to the Republican Party.

Johnson County figures still show Democratic registrations rising steadily, while Republicans have reported numbers lower than last year. The most recent figures from the election office show a total of 449,159 people registered to vote. Of those, 137,053 are registered as Democrats, 184,888 as Republicans, 121,646 unaffiliated and 5,573 as Libertarians.

In the one-year period since last June, Democrats have gained 10,750 registrations. Meanwhile, the number of registered Republicans fell 425 over the same period. The number of unaffiliated voters is also up by 8,500.

The registration deadline to vote in the August 2 primary is July 12. Voters must declare a party to cast a ballot for party candidates but all voters may vote on the amendment question as well as non-partisan county commission races.

This story was originally published in the Shawnee Mission Post.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
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