PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After early election results came back in Oregon, several people expressed shock on social media at how many voters throughout the state said they did not want to amend the constitution to remove language allowing slavery.
As of Thursday morning, election projections showed nearly 45% of voters said no to Measure 112. The measure asked voters if they’d like to remove language from the state constitution that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
Slavery and involuntary servitude have been prohibited in Oregon since 1857, but the state’s constitution makes an exception for situations when it’s used as a form of punishment for a crime. It allowed for forced labor of people convicted of crimes.
Oregon is one of nearly 20 states with constitutions that include language allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as a form of punishment, but the election has changed its status.
The Associated Press called the race on measure 112, and said that the yes votes in favor of removing the slavery exception from the constitution have one, with about 55% of the vote.
This map shows how each county voted on the measure. The pink counties had majority “no” votes. The green counties had majority “yes” votes.
This change means Oregon may need to re-think how it uses prison labor.
The measure states that when a person is convicted of a crime, an Oregon court or a probation or parole agency may order the convicted person to engage in education, counseling, treatment, community service or other alternatives to incarceration, as part of sentencing for the crime.
The measure’s explanatory statement in the voters’ pamphlet says that these programs “must be in line with programs that historically, or in the future, provide accountability, reformation, protection of society or rehabilitation.”
In the voters’ pamphlet, statements in favor of the measure far outnumbered the lone statement in opposition to it.
The statement opposing it came from Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, which said they cannot support Measure 112 as it is drafted.
“It creates unintended consequences for Oregon Jails that will result in the elimination of all reformative programs and increased costs to local jail operations,” they stated.
The statement said Oregon jails have long used reformative programs as incentives for good behavior and as a way to help adults in custody gain skills. The programs include working in a jail library, cleaning cells, doing laundry, preparing meals, cleaning up roadways and more.
The OSSA said there are two major problems with the measure. First, only those convicted are covered by the measure, leaving behind people who are awaiting trial.
Second, the programs currently operated by jails are not ordered by a court or a probation or parole officer. They said the measure does not provide any authority for existing programs without an order from the court, a probation officer or a parole officer.
“Participation by [adults in custody] in these programs is voluntary, but the way this measure is written any involvement in a jail program by an [adult in custody] without an order from the court, probation officer or parole officer would likely be seen as involuntary servitude,” it stated.
The sheriffs said the passage of this measure could mean people in custody must serve longer sentences.
On the other side of the argument, district attorneys from Columbia County, Gilliam County, Wasco County, Deschutes County and Multnomah County wrote a statement in support of passing the measure.
“Voting YES on Measure 112 will still allow important rehabilitation and accountability programs to continue,” the district attorneys said. “Our current system includes mandated and voluntary work programs. Passing Measure 112 will clean up our state constitution while allowing these programs to continue.”
Oregon was one of five states with measures like this on their ballot in the general election. Alabama, Tennessee and Vermont appear to have passed their similar state constitutional changes prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.