Why slavery is on the ballot in 5 states

Barbara Martin
Posted at 12:13 PM, Nov 01, 2022

Slavery may have been abolished in the U.S. more than a century ago, but many states are still grappling with potential loopholes in their constitutions.

The midterm elections could change how Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont view slavery.

Ballot measures in the state would remove language from their constitution that allows "slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime."

According to NPR, Colorado, Nebraska and Utah made similar changes to their constitution.

However, changing the language in a constitution could come with some unintended consequences. Some fear states could face legal challenges to how prisoners are compensated for their work.

The Oregon State Sheriffs' Association came out against Measure 112, not because of the language about slavery, but rather because of how changing the state's constitution could impact prison programs.

"Oregon Sheriffs cannot support Measure 112 as drafted-it creates unintended consequences for Oregon Jails that will result in the elimination of all reformative programs and increased costs to local jail operations," said Jason Myers, executive director-Oregon State Sheriffs' Association.

Supporters of changing the language have tried to tamp down fears that prison work would be affected.

Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari told the Associated Press that they worked with the Department of Corrections to ensure that prison work would be permitted.

Many of the state constitutions mirror the U.S. Constitution which says, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

However, some activists have called for a change to the U.S. Constitution as well, arguing slavery under any circumstance is wrong.