Several States Outlaw Slavery At Ballot Box, But Not All

Voters in several states supported measures to change language in their constitutions that allowed slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime, while others rejected the proposals at the ballot box, per the Associated Press.On Tuesday (November 8), Alabama, Tennessee, and Vermont voted in favor of removing the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as prison labor through initiatives on the ballot. Oregon was also on track for a majority vote supporting its anti-slavery ballot initiative as of Tuesday night.

However, in Lousiana, a deep South, former slave-holding state, voters rejected Amendment 7, which would’ve implemented a constitutional amendment to ban the use of involuntary servitude in the criminal justice system.

Though the initiatives voted in favor of on Tuesday won’t be immediately enforced in state prisons, they may quickly lead to legal challenges over the practice of forcing prisoners to work under threat of sanctions or loss of privileges if they refuse the work.

“Tonight, voters in Oregon and other states have come together across party lines to say that this stain must be removed from state constitutions,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) told AP.

“Now, it is time for all Americans to come together and say that it must be struck from the U.S. Constitution. There should be no exceptions to a ban on slavery,” Merkley added.

Over 150 years ago, the U.S. Constitution barred enslavement and involuntary servitude through the ratification of the 13th Amendment, with the exception of criminal punishment. The slavery exception still exists today, allowing for the exploitation of incarcerated individuals through low-cost labor.

Last year, Merkley and Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Georgia, reintroduced legislation to revise the 13th Amendment to end the exception. If it successfully passes through Congress, the constitutional amendment will then have to be ratified by three-fourths of U.S. states.

Still, after Tuesday’s vote, more than a dozen states have constitutions with language that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime. A number of states have no constitutional language addressing the use of forced prison labor.

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