Louisiana Votes Against Abolishing Slavery



Macro view of an urban person’s hand on a chain link fence in De Nieuwe Stad. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Ayan Rasulova

In the recent midterm election, Louisiana decided not to abolish slavery or involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment with a 61% majority vote.

Despite four other states accepting these revisions to ban slavery (with the issue appearing on the ballots of Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont), Louisiana rejected Amendment 7. This amendment, officially called the “Remove Involuntary Servitude as Punishment for a Crime from Constitution Measure,” would have called for the Louisiana Constitution to declare that “slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited.” However, the amendment would have also stated that this provision did not apply to “the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.”

The rejection of the amendment can primarily be attributed to issues involving the wording on the ballot itself. With how it is phrased, the second half of the measure (which contains the exception to this new provision) could possibly be interpreted as an expansion of involuntary servitude. In fact, the original sponsor of the amendment, Democratic Louisiana State Representative Edmond Jordan, acknowledged this and rescinded his initial promotion of the amendment, asking citizens to vote against it. In an official statement, he claimed, “The way that the ballot language is stated is confusing. And the way that it was drafted it could lead to multiple different conclusions or opinions. Because of the ambiguity of how it was drafted, I’m asking that people vote against it, so that we can go and clean it up with the intent of bringing it back next year and making sure that the language is clear and unambiguous. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to have to bring it back to get it cleared up either way. But either way, it is my intent to bring it back next year and make sure that the language is clearer, and that there is no confusion.”

On the other hand, the Vote Yes on 7 Coalition (led by Curtis Ray Davis II) is still in favor of voting for the amendment, despite the misleading wording. They told voters to “not be confused by this as [they] are convinced that the language “the otherwise lawful activity of the criminal justice system” in place of “except” does not lead to an expansion of slavery.” There have been criticisms of the US penal system for its disproportionate targeting of racial minority groups through systemic issues in the justice system, which is why prohibiting slavery for the incarcerated is seen as so important for groups such as Vote Yes on 7, who argued that “This amendment is only a first step in dismantling this aspect of what we consider an extremely predatory system.”

If the wording of the ballot was less confusing, Louisiana likely would have had a higher chance of passing the amendment. The Council for a Better Louisiana expressed their thoughts on the situation, claiming, “This amendment is an example of why it is so important to get the language right when presenting constitutional amendments to voters.” Hopefully Representative Jordan can introduce this piece of legislation next year without many difficulties to ensure a fair vote.