Colorado voters will get a second chance next month to abolish slavery

(Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Next month, Colorado will vote on changing the language in its state constitution so that it no longer allows slavery as a form of punishment. Slavery is technically — technically — still legal in many states.

Wait, slavery is legal?

Article II, Section 26 of Colorado’s constitution reads that there “shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” [Emphasis added]

That’s what legislators are putting on the ballot this year. Amendment A will change the wording to “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.” [Again, emphasis added.]

Voters almost passed the amendment two years ago. But the wording was so unclear that it confused many people about whether they were voting for or against slavery, said Jumoke Emery with Abolish Slavery Colorado.

He’s hopeful that this time around, Amendment A will pass.

“I hope that this puts forth the message that our past doesn’t have to be our future, that by and large we as Americans are interested in fixing our mistakes and that there’s hope for our future,” he said.

Is Colorado alone?

More than 15 other state constitutions allow slavery as punishment for a crime. The US Constitution does too.

The 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished most forms of slavery but still allowed for the opportunity of servitude as legal punishment. That has yet to change.

ACLU’s Nathan Woodliff-Stanley says removing the wording from the Colorado constitution “closes the door on the possibility of future abuses, and it also sends a positive message in a time of great division in our nation.”