In the last two years, voters have unseated district attorneys, or defeated an incumbent’s chosen successor, in more than a dozen U.S. counties. Those are small numbers in the context of the nation’s 2,500 elected prosecutors, but they still signal a shift, reports The Marshall Project. “It’d be hard to find a set of a dozen races like this in the early 2000s or 1990s,” says Stanford law Prof. David Sklansky. Election contests that have centered around race, sentencing, juvenile justice, and the death penalty reflect a growing awareness among reformers that with efforts to reduce prison populations stalled in Washington, D.C., and inconsistent in states, local elections are another place to push for change.
“People are scrutinizing their local criminal justice systems, and people are realizing how much power state attorneys have, and they are seeing elections as a way to change those results,” says Deborrah Brodsky of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University. In Harris County, Tx., Republican incumbent Devon Anderson is facing Democratic challenger Kim Ogg, who has the backing of the Houston Chronicle and the local Black Lives Matter movement. Issues include bail and marijuana prosecutions. In the Denver suburbs, Republican incumbent Pete Weir cites his promotion of mental health and veterans courts. Democratic challenger Jake Lilly calls him “old-fashioned.”