Ballot Initiatives in Five States Would Abolish Slavery from State Constitutions

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For Immediate Release:
September 21, 2022

Media Contact:
Charlotte Bennett, [email protected]

Ballot Initiatives in Five States Would Abolish Slavery from State Constitutions

That’s right, in 2022 there are still 20 states that have not outlawed slavery in their state constitutions, but a new push through ballot measures seeks to change this longstanding injustice

When the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865, it abolished slavery but it did not go far enough. It created an  “exception loophole,” known as “involuntary servitude” or forced labor that was still permitted as a punishment for a crime. 

Some states modeled their constitutions after the U.S. Constitution, thus never completely abolishing slavery. They remain within these documents to this day. 

This “exception loophole” allowed the Black Codes of the late 19th century to return many Black Americans to a condition akin to slavery, and laid the groundwork for the Jim Crow laws that weren’t outlawed until the Civil Rights Act. These Black Codes allowed authorities to incarcerate Black people for minor or false offenses and then force them to work. The lasting impacts of these laws are still felt today.

Across the country, in the year 2022, there still remain roughly 20 states that distinctly permit slavery, involuntary servitude, or both, in some form in their state constitutions. In 2022, five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont — seek to amend their state constitution and remove and/or claify their prohibitions on these remnants of American slavery once and for all. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is supporting and working closely with most of these campaigns looking to abolish slavery from their state constitutions.

“Removing this language is more than symbolic, it is a step in addressing the continuing evil legacy of slavery. Constitutions are not just legal documents or sets of laws, they are moral documents and expressions of who we are. We have an obligation to live our values and send a strong message that slavery and indentured servitude are unacceptable to us in any circumstances,” said Brad Christian-Sallis,  Movement Building Manager for BISC, who was part of the campaign involved in the passing of Amendment 1 in Nebraska that successfully removed slavery from the Nebraska constitution in 2020.

“We cannot build a world where all people are free and treated with dignity until we remove the remaining vestiges of slavery in America. The exception to slavery as a form of punishment has not only contributed to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, but how systems and society view these communities. Equity and justice are dependent on the reimagination of  systems that allow us to perpetuate harm and racist practices–these amendments build the pathway to new possibilities,” said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, BISC Executive Director.

Since 2018, three states — Nebraska, Utah, and Colorado — have amended their constitutions to abolish slavery without exception. Each initiative passed with sizable majority support.  

If you’re interested in speaking with BISC’s Executive Director, Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, on current or past abolition-related ballot initiatives or amendments, please reach out to Charlotte Bennett at [email protected]