An Analysis of the Nebraska Amendment 1

Background: Since its establishment in 1867, Nebraska has prided itself on never allowing slavery within its borders. However, the original framers of Nebraska’s constitution did include a provision regarding allowing slavery and unpaid servitude to be legal punishments in our penal system. “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” has been in our constitution up until early November.

Prior to the election, Nebraska was one of twelve states with a similar provision in its constitution. In 1865, with the establishment of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution eradicating slavery, there was also a clause included permitting slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. All of this changed in the past few weeks in our state with the passing of Amendment 1 on Nebraska’s, eradicating any language pertaining to slavery in any case. However, this was not as harmonious a decision as many people would have expected, with only 68.23% of Nebraskans voting in favor of amending our constitution and 31.77% voting to have it remain.

Wording: While the Amendment itself made sense to be on the ballot, the wording of it may have tripped a few people up. The title was straight forward, stating “A constitutional amendment to eliminate slavery or involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime.” They then gave the two options you’d be used to seeing, of “For” or “Against”. The “For” box meant you voted that “this constitutional amendment would eliminate a provision in the Nebraska Constitution that states that slavery or involuntary servitude may be used as a punishment for conviction of a crime.”; while the “Against” box was if you believed “this constitutional amendment would leave the language regarding slavery or involuntary servitude unchanged in the Nebraska Constitution.”

While some people in the voting process may have been thinking “Why is slavery on the ballot, anyways?”, there were still 31.77% of voters who were against the amendment. Through conversations with others, and my own experience with this ballot, I learned that quite a few people had to read it over multiple times to determine which they were voting for. Filling in the circle by “For” made it feel like you were voting “for” slavery, as opposed the reality. This may have caused a few people to fill in the wrong one in relation to their personal views; though, we know this is not entirely the case. Even with the tricky phrases and conservative strongholds, Nebraskans still managed to vote 68.23% in favor of updating the amendment, with it now stating, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.