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All four amendments to Tennessee’s constitution have passed. Here’s what that means.

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Rachel Iacovone WPLN News
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A billboard in Nashville's historically Black Bordeaux neighborhood calls for voters to say yes to Amendment 3 on the ballot.

Four amendments to the state constitution all appear to be on track to pass, based on more than 700,000 votes.

If the early results hold, the state’s constitution will be updated. Language about the “right to work” and a temporary order of succession for the governor’s office will be added, while other language about slavery as punishment for a crime and a ban on ministers serving in the legislature will be removed.

Amendment 1 on the “right to work” was the most controversial, yet early results show that all the amendments passed by a wide margin.

The amendments drew some voters to the polls, like Jessica Thomas and her mother. They were especially motivated to vote yes on Amendment 3, which would remove slavery from the state’s constitution as a punishment for crime. She says the process of voting felt profound.

“It always feels amazing to vote,” Thomas said. “I mean, we’re African Americans. We fought for the right to vote. So I feel good going in there, pushing those buttons, knowing that the people before me, I’m standing on their shoulders.”

While the passage of Amendment 3 means that slavery as punishment for a crime is removed from the constitution, it will not result in any immediate changes to labor inside Tennessee’s prisons. However, some proponents hope it could open up the opportunity for legal challenges.

Still, other voters expressed confusion about what a yes or no vote means. The amendment language is written in notoriously complicated legal language that can be difficult to navigate.

“You have to be very careful,” said voter Courtney Stanfill. “Be diligent. Know what you’re voting for. If you don’t know what you’re voting for, have someone explain it to you, because you may be voting for something that you may not be in total agreeance with.”
Copyright 2022 WPLN News. To see more, visit WPLN News.

Paige Pfleger is a reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more.