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Tennessee voters officially ban all forms of slavery in the state

Tennessee has officially banned all forms of slavery. Voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure that removes language allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as forms of punishment for those convicted of crimes.

The measure passed with 79.54% of the votes, according to the Secretary of State's office. 

The measure amended Article I, Section 33 of the Tennessee Constitution, which states that "slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited in this state – except as punishment for a person who has been duly convicted of crime." The new amendment removes the language allowing for these punishments.

The section will now read: "Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime."

Before it was sent to voters in the state, a majority of Tennessee lawmakers supported the proposal, but six legislators voted against it. 

"I'm a non-lawyer and most of my voters are non-lawyers and I can't explain this amendment in words they understand," Republican State Senator Frank Niceley said during a 2021 meeting of the Tennessee General Assembly. "The Constitution is too sacred is too scared to clutter up with a lot stuff non-lawyers can't explain to other non-laywers. So I guess I'll be voting no on this."

The measure was one of four on the ballot in the state this Election Day.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, but includes similar language allowing for involuntary servitude to be imposed as punishment for crimes.

State Senator Raumesh Akbari said in an interview with Fox Nashville last year that the amendment to the state's constitution would close that loophole. 

A bipartisan group of legislators supported the "Vote Yes on 3" campaign, which urged voters to adopt the ballot measure. "Words matter and in the constitution, there is still a resemblance of slavery leftover," Democratic State Rep. Joe Townes said in a bipartisan campaign ad with Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison. 

"It's important that we do away with all thoughts of slavery in our constitution," Faison said.

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