News & Commentary

November 9, 2022

Sarah Leadem

Sarah Leadem is a joint degree candidate at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Yesterday was election day! In today’s News and Commentary, three states extended the slavery ban, cities and states voted to increase the minimum wage, and Illinois and Tennessee voters voted on opposing right to work constitutional amendments with uncertain results.

Voters in Alabama, Tennessee, Vermont, and likely Oregon have voted to fully ban slavery and end involuntary prison labor. State ballot initiatives in these four states plus Louisiana garnered significant attention leading up to the election. Although slavery was outlawed in 1865 by the 13th Amendment, many state constitutions exempt incarcerated people from the slavery ban, permitting indentured servitude and forced labor for people in prison. Yesterday, voters in these five states voted on whether to amend their state constitutions to end the exemption. Voters in Alabama, Tennessee, and Vermont passed the anti-slavery ballot initiatives. Oregon is also likely to pass the initiative, although results have not yet been called. Louisiana voters rejected the measure. Ahead of the election, many warned that the language of the measure was confusing to voters, which may have contributed to its defeat.

Several cities and states also on minimum wage increases. Voters in Washington D.C. overwhelmingly approved Initiative 82, which will phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped workers of $5.35 per hour, raising it to the city’s minimum wage by 2027. Voters in Nebraska increased the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. Nevada voters took to the polls to increase the statewide minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2024; while results weigh in favor, the result has not been called.

As Travis and Tascha reported, Illinois and Tennessee voted on opposing state constitutional amendments on right to work yesterday. Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would enshrine the state’s existing “right to work” law into the state constitution. On the other end, Illinois’ “Worker Rights Amendment” would ban the future passage right to work laws in the state. As of this morning, a strong majority (70%) of Tennessee voters voted for the amendment. In Illinois, the vote is too close to call. A state constitutional amendment in Illinois must be approved by a 3/5th majority or 60% of voters. As of this morning, 58.7% have voted yes with 90% of votes counted.

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