LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A question on Michigan’s November ballot asking voters to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution could have a powerful effect: drawing more left-leaning voters to the polls and boosting Democratic power on the battlefield situation.
A record number of people – more than 750,000 – signed petitions to put the measure on the November 8 ballot after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision guaranteeing the right to abortion. Supporters said the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was a powerful motivator, especially for women, to get involved in politics — some for the first time.
Now, with the Michigan Board of Elections agreeing Friday to put the measure on the ballot, Democrats hope that translates into increased support for their candidates in an election in which the party is defending all statewide offices, including governor. . Democrats are also trying to wrest control of at least one part of the Republican-led legislature in a battleground state expected to be pivotal in the 2024 presidential election.
“When we collected signatures for the ballot initiative, we met women who had never voted or signed a ballot initiative petition before, but got involved because the stakes for women and families are so high,” said Kelly Dillaha, executive director by Red, Wine. and Blue, a group that helped put the initiative on the ballot. Those same women, Dillaha said, are now mobilizing their friends, families and communities to vote in November.
A poll taken shortly after the Supreme Court decision found that 53% of US adults say they disapprove of overturning Roe v. Wade, while 30% say they approve. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found 60 percent believe Congress should pass a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.
Democrats have seen reason for optimism in other elections held since the Supreme Court decision. In conservative Kansas, for example, voters overwhelmingly rejected an abortion measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure outright.
“I think we saw in Kansas that the ballot measure certainly increased turnout and significantly changed the turnout equation to be more favorable to people who support abortion rights,” said Jessica Post, chair of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. . “And so these Republican candidates have finally kind of gotten what they wanted and what they’ve been working for forever, and they’re about to face a huge electoral backlash.”
Abortion opponents say Michigan’s initiative goes too far and could affect other laws, such as requiring parental consent to abort a minor, although supporters dispute that. The amendment would affirm the right to make pregnancy-free decisions, including abortion and other reproductive services, such as birth control. It would essentially overturn a dormant 1931 state law that makes it a crime to perform most abortions, a ban that was suspended by a judge last spring. A judge declared the ban unconstitutional this week, but abortion opponents could appeal that ruling.
Abortion foes also argue that the calculation in Michigan is different than in Kansas. In Kansas, abortion opponents needed a “yes” — which is harder than a “no” when seeking to amend the constitution, said Fred Uzolek, a GOP consultant working to oppose the measure. In Michigan, abortion foes will need a no vote.
“I just have to create a little bit of doubt in people’s minds and generally they’ll vote no, and you have to sell people very hard on a yes when you’re trying to amend a constitution,” Wszolek said.
Michigan is among four states, along with California, Kentucky and Vermont, that will have votes in November on abortion access. The fifth, Montana, is passing a measure that would require abortion providers to provide life-saving treatment to a fetus born alive after a botched abortion.
But of those states, Michigan alone is of national importance when it comes to choosing a president. It’s the only swing state of the four, and officials elected during the November midterms will be in place through the 2024 contest.
Michigan’s abortion initiative was passed after a partisan drama over the quality of reports. Although supporters easily met the minimum threshold for signatures, Republicans and abortion opponents argued that the petitions had improper or no spacing between certain words and were confusing voters.
A state board of elections then deadlocked along party lines over whether the abortion initiative should appear on the ballot, with Republicans voting no and Democrats voting yes. A 2-2 tie meant the measure was not certified for the ballot.
On Thursday, however, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the Board of State Canvassers to place the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot, and the board did just that on Friday.
To be sure, Democrats are facing some headwinds this election cycle. Historically, the incumbent party in the White House does poorly in a president’s first midterm election, and the GOP has criticized President Joe Biden, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Democrats for their handling of crime and the economy.
GOP strategist John Selleck said the GOP will succeed in November if the election is about issues like inflation and children not doing well in school after the pandemic, rather than abortion. He suggested GOP candidates try to separate the abortion ballot initiative from choosing a candidate for office that affects far more issues.
“What (Republicans) are counting on is that the abortion issue has reached its tipping point,” Selleck said. “They will attack this initiative as a Trojan horse and try to alienate those people who are not comfortable with secondary abortions or eliminating parental consent.”
Democrats are already focusing on abortion rights in the race between Whitmer and her Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, who opposes abortion in all circumstances except to protect the life of the mother. The Democratic Governors Association has repeatedly blasted Dixon in ads, calling her position “too radical” for Michigan.
Dixon seems to be trying to take the conversation elsewhere. In a tweet Thursday after the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling, he said voters “can vote for Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion agenda and still vote for her.” He then turned to other subjects, including crime.
“Gretchen, time to stop hiding behind your BS ads,” Dixon said. “I’m here to clean up your mess, turn around our schools, stop the crime wave, fix the roads and bring back the jobs you cost us.”
Meanwhile, Democratic-aligned groups say the measure will be on the ballot and plan to come out in force to get it to a vote. A group that led the petition effort, Reproductive Freedom for All, said advocates are organizing across the state. Rallies are planned for Saturday, including in Democratic strongholds Detroit and Ann Arbor.
“We are energized and motivated now more than ever,” said RFFA Communications Director Darci McConnell.
Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Ed White contributed to this report from Detroit.
Joey Cappelletti is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.
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