The results stemming from Election Day have opened our eyes to a lot, but mainly the fact that a handful of states actually had to vote on the constitutional right to prohibit slavery.
Now that you’ve taken some time to get your jaw off the floor, language does play a huge part in understanding the root of what is meant by “slavery” in this instance. Voters in a handful of states were asked on the ballot whether or not they supported a constitutional amendment to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime, i.e. prison labor. The use of “slavery” as a term in legal documents didn’t sit well with both Democrats and Republicans, leading to anti-slavery ballot initiatives in Alabama, Oregon, Vermont and Tennessee.
For the latter, even with a 80/20 split in favor to amend the “slavery exception language” found in Tennessee’s constitution, the 20% who were against it amounted to a whopping 332,686 votes, according to an official voting tally.
In addition to the four states mentioned above, a fifth state was also given the option but refused the question altogether. However, language yet again played a huge role in the decision.
More info below for a better understanding on the matter, via ABC News:
In Louisiana, a former slave-holding state, voters rejected a ballot question known as Amendment 7 that asked whether they supported a constitutional amendment to prohibit the use of involuntary servitude in the criminal justice system. Ahead of Election Day, state Rep. Edmond Jordan, a Democrat from Baton Rouge and author of the amendment, reportedly asked voters to reject the measure because its wording on the ballot differed from his proposal.
Jordan did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.
The four approved initiatives won’t force immediate changes in the states’ prisons, but they may invite legal challenges over the practice of coercing prisoners to work under threat of sanctions or loss of privileges if they refuse the work.
This is definitely a huge win overall for anti-slavery advocates, while also coming as a shock for many who find themselves surprised that “prohibiting slavery” is even a question in 2022. Still, more than a dozen states still have constitutions with language permitting slavery under the guise of prison labor. Several others don’t even have the constitutional language to even combat the use of forced prison labor on a judicial level.
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