Why is there a slavery amendment on the Colorado 2016 ballot?

DENVER -- Colorado voters filling out their ballots will come across a strange amendment referencing slavery. Amendment T proposes removing the archaic language from the state’s constitution.

Slavery was officially outlawed in Colorado in 1877 under Article II, Section 26 of the state’s constitution. The only exception in which slavery or involuntary servitude is allowed is by convicted criminals who are currently incarcerated. 

The exception in the 1877 article references work requirements for people convicted of a crime, such as community service. The article reads as follows;

“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.”

In some cases, offenders working in these programs are not being compensated. 

Amendment T removes that exception from the constitution and leaves the anti-slavery article to stand on its own. Courts have ruled that work requirements resulting from a conviction of a crime are still allowable under the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions.

Supporters for Amendment T argue that the language used in the 1877 article represents a time in the country’s history when not all people were seen as human beings or treated with dignity. Removing the language reflects fundamental values of freedom and equality, and makes an important symbolic statement, according to the Colorado Blue Book.

Those who would vote against it may argue that the Amendment T would create legal ambiguity around current offender work practices in the state.

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