Anti-slavery amendment passed, but faced resistance in rural Colorado

Coloradans had a rare opportunity to take a stand against slavery.  Even in 2018, there are still holdouts.

Jumoke Emery

Burned placards were left on the front porch of Amendment A sponsor. on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018.

The proposed constitutional amendment to abolish slavery as a criminal punishment received more than 765,000 votes against it. The likely reasons were a combination of misinformation, a lack of outreach in rural areas and a fear of going soft on crime. Despite passing, the opposition was widespread: the majority of voters in 26 counties opposed the constitutional amendment.

“Our reach was very limited,” said Kamau Allen, a spokesman for Abolish Slavery Colorado, the group that pushed the amendment. “So we didn’t have as many coalition people out there as we did at other locations in the state.”

The measure, called Amendment A, had a straightforward purpose: Get rid of archaic language in the state constitution that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime.

The amendment passed with 65 percent support statewide. Another 35 percent of voters rejected the amendment, according to Secretary of State results.

The group’s budget made it more challenging to get the word out to sparsely populated areas, Allen said. Abolish Slavery Colorado spent $40,834 to get out its message, campaign filings show.

In the Front Range, the word got out with literature drops, canvassing and phone banks, he said.

“We had a lot of support in the Front Range,” he said. “We had a lot of support in Denver, in Aurora and we also focused some of our efforts in Jeffco near the end of the campaign.”

Among uninformed voters, there was confusion about the amendment’s purpose that emerged on social media, he said.

“We got a lot of pushback from people living in some of these conservative areas, saying ‘If you do the crime, you have to do the time’ and ‘Slavery’s just fine for criminals’ and stuff like that,” Allen said.

Allen said the change allows community service, work and vocational programs in prisons to continue. The overall impact is “mostly symbolic,” he said, but the change is deeper because the state constitution is a “living document” that laws are based upon.

“We fought so hard for this and it means a lot to me personally as a black person,” Allen said.

Following the election, a police investigation continues after burning door-knob placards were left on the the front porch of Jumoke Emery, a lead organizer for the amendment. The burning campaign literature was left outside his Denver house on Monday.

No arrests have been made and police are still actively investigating the case, said Sgt. John White, spokesman for the Denver Police Department.

A similar ballot measure, Amendment T, failed to pass in Colorado’s 2016 election cycle.

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