Few Elections for Prosecutors Give Voters a Choice: Report

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Voters insert their printed ballots into an automated ballot box that scans and tallies the votes and deposits the printed ballots into a locked container. Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller

Many prosecutor elections around the U.S. do not offer voters any choices, says a new report from a Prosecutors and Politics Project based at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Of the more than 2,300 jurisdictions that elect their prosecutor, fewer than 700 presented voters with more than a single candidate on the ballot in the election cycle studied, between 2014 and 2016.

There are more than 1,700 communities with fewer than 100,000 people who elect prosecutors, as compared to only 42 communities with more than one million people, the report says.

Although most prosecutor elections are uncontested, most voters live in jurisdictions that are more likely to give them a choice. More than a quarter of the entire U.S. population lives in only 35 prosecutor districts. And more than half of the entire U.S. population lives in only 148 prosecutor districts.

The largest of those districts is Los Angeles County, Ca., with a population of nearly ten million. The smallest prosecutor district is Arthur, Ne., with a population of 460.

The project says its first report “may raise more questions than it answers.” Some of the questions are why do the number of contested elections vary so much based on population and election type?, how can we explain the variation in contested election rates across states?, and what would it take to increase the number of contested elections meaningfully?

The project’s director, Prof. Professor Carissa Byrne Hessick, says, “These are all important questions that are worth asking … we hope to provide more data on this and related questions in future reports.”

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