Alabama constitutional changes on the ballot, could impact prison labor

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 1:14 PM CDT

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The general election is more than a week away and there could be some changes to the Alabama constitution. On the ballot, there are ten amendments on the ballot and a vote to recompile the state constitution.

Voting ‘yes’ means deleting duplicate and legally irrelevant provisions and removing racist language.

The motion reads: ‘Proposing adoption of the Constitution of Alabama of 2022, which is a recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, prepared in accordance with Amendment 951, arranging the constitution in proper articles, parts, and sections, removing racist language, deleting duplicated and repealed provisions, consolidating provisions regarding economic development, arranging all local amendments by county of application, and making no other changes. (Proposed by Act 2022-111)

Policy Analyst Michael Nicholson with Alabama Arise says he and other advocates have been trying to remove the racist language from the constitution for years.

“The African-Americans that live in Alabama deserve so much more than us to just pretend like the constitution wasn’t written in the way it was and just to leave it as it was,” said Nicholson. “It has things in there like interracial marriage being illegal, involuntary servitude things like that.”

In some cases, lawmakers had to remove entire paragraphs in the constitution like references to separate schools for Black and white children, prohibiting interracial marriages and allowing involuntary servitude.

WAFF's Megan Plotka breaks down one of the major amendments on the November ballot

The constitution prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude but it has an exception. It allows involuntary servitude ‘for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.’ This portion was deleted from the 2022 revisions.

In the past, it was used to force Black people back into unpaid labor after the end of slavery.

It hasn’t been enforced in recent years, but Nicholson says the removal of the provision could give advocates the legal ground to file lawsuits around prison labor.

He says they could look at stronger monitoring of labor programs and raising wages.

“I don’t think it will prevent the state from doing what it’s already doing in terms of folks in prison working for the state but I think it might allow those folks some legal groundwork or some legal basis for lawsuits that might work for higher wages or things like that,” explains Nicholson.

All the changes are posted on the LSA’s website. Alabamians can vote on the measure on Nov. 8.