A woman stands at a voting station.

Slavery—Yes Slavery—Was on the Ballot in Five States in 2022

One step closer to actual freedom.

We made it through another election day. People always pay attention to the big names running, like the Fetterman vs. Oz showdown. But we must remember that down-ballot elections and state-level propositions are just as important as who is in the Senate or who is voted in as President. This year states are voting on the legalization of marijuana, abortion rights, and slavery. Yes, you read that correctly, slavery.

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A lot of Americans were raised on the fact that slavery ended with the 13th amendment to the Constitution. Now we are all free and everyone is equal. Except that is not really the case at all. Even now, in the futuristic-sounding year of 2022, we are still voting on slavery. This week five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont—all had slavery on the ballot.

How is slavery still legal?

Many state constitutions followed the federal Constitution model when using verbiage to outline the abolishment of slavery. Basically, it says that slavery will not exist in the United States EXCEPT slavery is still legal when used as a punishment for someone convicted of a crime. We most often see this played out as forced labor in the prison system. Americans have realized that still having slavery allowed, in any capacity, may not be the best course of action so it popping up more and more on the ballot.

Since 2018, three of the twenty states that allowed slavery have stricken it from their state constitutions. Now five more sought to follow their lead. Four of the states, Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont have now all passed laws amending their constitutions and prohibiting slavery in any capacity within the state. For now, this will only change things on paper. However, it opens a door to question the current criminal justice standards and could lead to heavy prison reform.

Louisiana was the only state that did not pass the slavery bill they had on the ballot. Initially, that may seem a little shocking, but upon closer inspection, the outcome is not a bad thing. The wording on the ballot would actually do nothing to change slavery as a punishment in the state, all it did was reword the same thought. Now Louisiana lawmakers must bring forward a different amendment that would completely remove any form of slavery within the state.

If enough states remove the language of slavery from their constitutions, then there is precedent for a change at the federal level. It is finally time to end slavery in America, which was supposed to have been abolished over 150 years ago.

(featured image: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)


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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.