As Colorado voters head to the polls on Tuesday, they'll decide on a constitutional amendment that aims to abolish slavery in the state. But Amendment A hasn't received the warm reception you might expect, as The Denver Post reports that someone left burned campaign literature on an anti-slavery activist's front porch on Monday.
“It’s racism and terrorism, plain and simple,” Jumoke Emery, an Abolish Slavery Colorado organizer, told The Denver Post. “It’s the equivalent of an 1820s cross burning on my front lawn.” Emery wasn't home when the burned door knob placards were left on the porch of his Denver home, but his wife saw them on the welcome mat when she went outside Monday afternoon to rake leaves.
Emery has championed Amendment A, which, if passed, would remove an 1876 provision still on the books that allows the state to force people in prison to work without pay. The state constitution currently says slavery and involuntary servitude aren't legal "except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." The current ballot measure would alter the language to prohibit slavery without exception, effectively forcing Colorado prisons to pay inmates for their work.
A similar amendment failed in 2016 after state lawmakers unanimously agreed to put it on the ballot, as The New York Times reported. Because there was no deliberate campaign against the change, activists and academics alike claimed it wasn't successful because the language on the ballot was confusing.
“Many people thought, ‘If I vote yes, I’m voting to put this language in the Constitution,’ because it seemed inconceivable that it was already there,” Melissa Hart, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, told The Times in 2016.
The language was updated for this year's ballot, and Emery told Mother Jones that "it should be clear to folks" that slavery has no place in the criminal justice system.
Amendment A has the support of the ACLU of Colorado, which said in a tweet that the measure's passage would make Colorado the first state to remove slavery and involuntary servitude from the state constitution, though some state constitutions never included such language. But the language currently in Colorado's state constitution comes directly from the U.S. Constitution, as the ACLU of Colorado points out on its website. The 13th Amendment reads, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Nevertheless, the ACLU of Colorado and Abolish Slavery Colorado think it's about time Colorado voters put an end to slavery within the state's borders.
"It is more than a symbolic measure, because it 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," the ACLU of Colorado wrote on its website. "It recognizes the horror and suffering of those who have been enslaved in this nation ... Let’s get it right this time—vote Yes on Amendment A."