Voters in five states have the chance to wipe slavery and indentured servitude off the books: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine and Hawaii. The question is whether they will do it.
The last time there was a ballot initiative to do this, in 1998, voters in California, Washington and Alaska rejected it because some of the ballot language was too specific, so as to be unconstitutional. In Maine, a ballot initiative would have stopped the state from accepting federal funds for any institutions that teach or practice racial segregation or discrimination against African-Americans.
This time around, there are 11 states that are on the ballot. Seven of them say they won’t take the risk of adding slavery and indentured servitude to the list of prohibited subjects. The measure to not change the law here is the same approach taken in California, Washington and Alaska. Another seven of the states, including Hawaii, say they will add slavery and indentured servitude.
The ballot initiatives were organized by the Colorado Civil Rights Project. The project’s executive director, James Dunn, who has participated in the campaign as a volunteer, says he believes that the six states not taking the risk of adding slavery and indentured servitude to the list of prohibited subjects are still likely to pass the ballot initiatives.
“I think the majority of our work in Colorado on the constitution is very much devoted to challenging the idea that the constitution is the exclusive document of the states and that the people’s voice is not meaningful and relevant in the process of determining constitutional law,” says Dunn, who is also the founder and editor of ColoradoRoots.org.
The ballot initiatives take aim at four state laws: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which limits the types of changes to elections that states could make to protect minority voters; the Hawaii Civil Rights Act, which protects freedom of political expression; and the Oregon Human Relations Act of 1997, which protects people’s human rights to marry.
In general, the ballot initiatives ask voters to repeal portions of those four state laws and add the two new restrictions: that state and local government may not have an anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination based on race or color and that children under 18 don’t have the right to get an education unless it is