Prosecutor and sheriff elections in 2024 could be as important as President and Congress

December 27, 2023

“With roughly 2,200 prosecutors and sheriffs on the 2024 ballot, voters will weigh in on county offices throughout the nation next year, settling confrontations over the shape of local criminal legal systems while also choosing the president and Congress. …

“These offices often get overshadowed since the criminal legal system is so decentralized, but that’s also what makes these offices so powerful: DAs exert a great deal of discretion within their jurisdiction, choosing what cases to prosecute and how harshly, as do the sheriffs who run their county jails like fiefdoms.

“Most of the counties choosing their prosecutors and sheriffs in 2024 last elected these officials in 2020, a tumultuous year defined by the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and amplified attention to racial injustice.

“Many candidates broke the traditional mold of law-and-order campaigning that year, making the case instead that punitive practices haven’t delivered on safety even as they’ve ballooned prisons. Reform-minded prosecutors were elected or reelected in the counties that contain Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Tucson, and Ann Arbor, among others; voters also elected some new sheriffs who interrupted immigration detention. But progressives fell short in high-profile races in the contain Houston, Detroit, Fort Worth, and Phoenix.

“Those offices are all back on the ballot in 2024. Criminal justice reformers are defending more incumbents than ever but also hope to gain some new ground where they’ve faltered in the last cycle, with the future prospect of policies that would ramp incarceration up or down on the line.”

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