Political ads on crime are ubiquitous in this fall’s campaigns for Congress and other top offices. But the elections that will affect policing and the court system most immediately are the local races for sheriff and prosecutor. These powerful officials decide who to prosecute and how severely, what sentences to seek, whether to team up with federal immigration enforcement, and other major policy questions over which they have vast discretion.
With over 2,000 elections for prosecutor and sheriff on the ballot this year, Bolts has worked throughout the year on identifying and covering the most critical races—those that feature the starkest choices for voters, or those that deserve the brightest spotlight. The primary season resolved many, from reformer wins in Tennessee and Vermont to reformer losses in San Francisco or San Jose. But a lot remains to be decided on Nov. 8.
Below is our guide to the 30 prosecutor and sheriff elections that may upend criminal justice next week.
1. Arizona | Maricopa County (Phoenix) prosecutor
Four years after questioning Christine Blasey Ford during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 2018, Rachel Mitchell became chief prosecutor of Maricopa County this year when the incumbent resigned. And abortion looms large over her bid for a full term, due to the decision by Kavanaugh and his peers to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Mitchell has said she would enforce a ban on abortion. whereas Democratic challenger Julie Gunnigle has ruled that out, as Bolts reported in May in partnership with The Appeal. “As Maricopa County attorney I will never prosecute a patient, a provider, or a family for choosing to have an abortion or any other reproductive decision,” Gunnigle said. “Not now, not ever.”
In this county of 4.5 million residents, the office has been notorious for decades for its punitive policies, and Gunnigle has deployed a broader reform platform, charging that incarceration is far too high in Arizona. She told Arizona Central that Maricopa prosecutors like Mitchell have “ramped-up sentences…, opting to throw people into unsafe prisons where they are farmed out to prison labor camps.” Gunnigle ran on a similar message in 2020, for instance promising not to seek certain sentencing enhancements as a means of reducing sentence length, but she lost by 1.4 percentage points to Alister Adel, Mitchell’s predecessor who resigned in March.
2. California | Alameda County (Berkeley, Oakland) prosecutor
Retiring incumbent Nancy O’Malley has been a vocal critic of many of the legislative reforms and ballot initiatives that California progressives have championed to reduce incarceration. Running to replace her in this populous county are deputy DA Terry Wiley, whom she has endorsed, and civil rights attorney Pamela Price, a critic of O’Malley’s failure to address racial disparities in the county’s justice system. In a partnership between Bolts and The Nation, Piper French reported on Tuesday on Price’s platform of focusing on gender justice through policies that don’t rely on criminal punishment to address gender-based violence.
Both candidates are running in the shadow of horrible gun violence in Oakland. Wiley casts himself as sympathetic to reform, stressing his efforts to improve the juvenile justice system and reduce racial disparities from within, but he also presents himself as a moderate alternative to Price, which has won him the support of an array of law enforcement unions. Price is more squarely in the mold of progressives who have won other DA offices: she has committed to never charging children as adults and centering restorative justice initiatives.
3. California | Los Angeles County sheriff
Under Alex Villanueva’s leadership, the Los Angeles sheriff’s department has been marred by scandals and investigations into abuses and organized violence—enough to fill a book, as Piper French reports in Bolts. And the sheriff only drew more scrutiny since then as he ordered the search of the house of one of his chief critics in September.
In the runoff, Villanueva faces Robert Luna, who has accumulated his own controversies while heading the Long Beach Police Department. The incumbent’s critics have still rallied around Luna, including Eric Strong, a more progressive challenger who was eliminated in June after coming in third. Whoever emerges victorious, local progressives have made it clear that they are circumspect about any talk of internal change given a history of failed reform, and they are pressing for more independent oversight: Angelenos are also deciding on Measure A, which would enable the county’s board of supervisors to remove a sheriff from office.
4. California | San Francisco prosecutor
After the prominent reform DA Chesa Boudin was recalled in June, Mayor London Breed appointed the recall surrogate Brooke Jenkins to replace him. The transition brought a sea change: the dismissal of 15 staffers, including a complete turnover at the unit that investigates police violence against civilians, as Bolts reported, and reversals of key Boudin policies, including his moratoriums on gang sentencing enhancements, on seeking cash bail, and on charging children as adults.
In the upcoming special election, Jenkins will defend her new seat against two challengers. The first is attorney Joe Alioto Veronese, a critic of both Boudin and Jenkins who is positioning himself as tough on crime and corruption. The progressive lane is occupied by John Hamasaki, the former police commissioner and critic of the San Francisco Police Department, who has lambasted Jenkins for her close relationship with London Breed and acceptance of large sums of money from the recall campaign.
5. California | San Diego County sheriff
San Diego is plagued by deadly jail conditions, even by the standards of the state’s dangerous carceral system, and this has become an unusually prominent issue in the open race for sheriff. Bolts reported in June that candidates are bringing vastly different commitments to the table.
The contender who went furthest in proposing changes, Dave Myers, lost in June; this paved the way for a runoff between Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, who is endorsed by the association of deputy sheriffs, and John Hemmerling, a Republican who is generally critical of criminal justice reform.
6. Florida | Pinellas (St Petersburg) and Pasco counties prosecutor
Home to a combined 1.5 million residents, Florida’s Pasco and Pinellas counties share a state attorney but they have not had a contested race for prosecutor in 30 years. Democrat Allison Miller, a public defender, is challenging Bruce Bartlett, a Republican incumbent appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis to fill a vacancy. Miller jumped into the race proposing an array of reform proposals, including curbing pretrial detention and the adult prosecution of children; she told Bolts that she was fueled to run by her frustration at a system stacked in prosecutors’ favor.
But the climate transformed in August, as Bolts’s Piper French reported, when DeSantis made the extraordinary decision of suspending Andrew Warren, the elected prosecutor of neighboring Hillsborough County based on Warren’s statements that he would not prosecute cases of abortion and gender-affirming healthcare. Miller made a similar vow to not charge people over abortions, raising the specter that DeSantis could seek to block her from office even if she wins.
7. Indiana | Marion County (Indianapolis) prosecutor
Marion County is one of many places this year where police unions have clashed with local prosecutors who pushed some amount of reform. The local Fraternal Order of Police overwhelmingly approved a vote of “no confidence” against Democratic incumbent Ryan Mears over the summer and endorsed Republican challenger Cyndi Carrasco to replace him.
Carrasco says Mears crossed the line by promising to not prosecute certain behaviors, citing his blanket policy of not charging people for marijuana possession. “I do not want Indianapolis to become a San Francisco, to become a New York City, to become a Los Angeles,” she said at a recent forum. She also disagrees with Mears’ vow to not prosecute cases that touch on abortion. Should Mears win, he may also face retaliation from GOP lawmakers who have already signaled they want to get around the discretion of local prosecutors on that issue.
8. Iowa | Polk County (Des Moines) prosecutor
Kimberly Graham, who says she was inspired to run when she listened to an interview with Boston’s former DA Rachael Rollins on progressive prosecution, won a tough Democratic primary in June in Iowa’s most populous county. Graham, who represents abused and neglected children in court and used to work as a defense attorney, told Bolts that she has never worked as a prosecutor and considers her outsider status an asset. “If you’ve been a prosecutor for 30 years, maybe everything just looks like an opportunity to charge someone with a crime and send them to jail or prison,” she said. “Public safety and being safe is not just policing and prosecution.”
If she wins, her politics would represent a stark break from the status quo in Polk County, where the retiring Democratic prosecutor drew national headlines in 2020 for aggressively charging activists and a journalist after the Black Lives Matter protests. GOP nominee Allan Richards, by contrast, is emphasizing continuity with the outgoing incumbent, and a law-and-order message, despite the party difference. The election is unfolding against the backdrop of a ruling by the state supreme court in June that struck down constitutional protections for abortion in the state; Graham says she would not prosecute cases linked to abortion if it was banned.
9. Maryland | Frederick County sheriff
The rapidly diversifying Frederick County, located one hour north of D.C., has a long legacy of anti-immigrant policies, championed in large part by Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. This fall, Jenkins is seeking a fifth-term and immigrants’ rights advocates hope their longstanding efforts to reverse those hardline policies finally pay off, Bolts reported. Democratic nominee Karl Bickel, a former sheriff’s deputy, told Bolts that he would curtail the sheriff’s department’s relationship with ICE and end the county’s membership in ICE’s 287(g) program.
Jenkins is also deeply affiliated with national far-right networks and subscribes to the idea that sheriffs are the supreme guardians of the Constitution. “Is it going to come down to my men facing off with a federal agency at gunpoint?” he has said. “I hope not.”
10. Massachusetts | Barnstable County (Cape Cod) sheriff
Officials in Democratic-leaning Barnstable County publicly expressed support for immigrants last month after Florida’s governor flew dozens of asylum seekers to the region for a political stunt. But as Alex Burness reported from Cape Cod in Bolts, the county also has an unusually tight relationship with ICE: It is the only county in all of New England that contracts into the agency’s 287(g) program.
The local GOP sheriff is not running for re-election this year, which opens the door for possible change to immigration policies. The race pits a Republican lawmaker and a Democratic attorney, who told Bolts she would “rip up” the 287(g) agreement on her first day in office.
11. Massachusetts | Bristol County sheriff
Thomas Hodgson, the longest-serving Massachusetts sheriff, has overseen jails marred by mounting suicides and complaints of medical neglect, squalor, and malnutrition, Bolts‘s Alex Burness reported this week. Hodgson, a Republican who is deeply embedded in national far-right networks, now faces his first opponent in twelve years, local Democratic mayor Paul Heroux.
Bristol County’s jail system has seen a long trail of lawsuits and investigations, including allegations of violence against detainees that led the Biden administration last year to break a contract to detain immigrants in the county. Elizabeth Matos, who heads an organization that advocates for people incarcerated in this state, told Burness the regime in Bristol is “intentionally dehumanizing.” “He’s earned the nickname ‘The Arpaio of the East’,” she said, referencing Joe Arpaio, the rightwing strongman and former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County.
12. Massachusetts | Plymouth County prosecutor
Back when he worked at the ACLU of Massachusetts, civil rights attorney Rahsaan Hall helped file requests for records from the DA’s office in Plymouth County. The office charged the ACLU $1.2 million dollars, only later relenting when faced with the threat of litigation. Now, Hall is the Democratic nominee against longtime Republican incumbent Tim Cruz, a vocal reform critic.
Hall is hoping to carry the torch for reform prosecutors in Massachusetts, a state that saw two watershed victories for reform-minded DAs in 2018 but is set to lose both this year. “I see it as my responsibility and duty to be, for lack of a better phrase, the voice crying out in the wilderness saying that there is another way,” Hall told Bolts‘s Alex Burness in September. Hall says he would reduce the footprint of the office by establishing a list of low-level charges his staff would have a presumption of not prosecuting, following the example of Rachael Rollins, the former prosecutor in Boston with whom Cruz frequently clashed.
13. Minnesota | Hennepin County (Minneapolis) prosecutor
Voters in the Minneapolis region will elect a prosecutor for the first time since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. For Malaika Eban, deputy director at the Minneapolis-based Legal Rights Center, the race is “a referendum on what we want to do as a community moving forward since George Floyd was murdered.”
As Eamon Whalen reported last month as part of joint dive into the race by Bolts and Mother Jones, Tuesday’s election features two diametrically opposed visions of the criminal legal system. On the one side is Mary Moriarty, the county’s former chief public defender who long clashed with the outgoing prosecutor over racial inequities in his office and is now carrying the mantle of progressive policies. Her opponent Martha Holton Dimick is a former judge and prosecutor, who champions a law and order message and blames the mere talk of reform for fueling crime.
Hennepin voters are also voting for a new sheriff. The incumbent is not seeking re-election after crashing his car in a drunk-driving incident; both candidates on the ballot have said they will continue the policies implemented under his watch to curtail cooperation with ICE, including directives against sharing jail detainees’ booking information with the federal agency, reports The Sahan Journal. Dawanna Witt, a deputy in the department, is favored as she already received more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round in August.
14. Nebraska | Douglas County (Omaha) prosecutor
Incumbent prosecutor Don Kleine switched to the GOP two years ago after the local Democratic Party accused him of furthering white supremacy during the Black Lives Matter protests; he had brought no charges against the man who killed James Scurlock, a Black protester.
Two years later, Kleine faces a challenge from Dave Pantos, a Democrat and former director of Legal Aid of Nebraska, who is emphasizing some reform promises such as lowering criminal charges for drug possession.
15. New Mexico | Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) sheriff
Elected as a Democrat, Sheriff Manuel Gonzales antagonized his party by associating with Trump and resisting accountability over his office—including the man who this year ended up becoming the Democratic nominee to replace him, former sheriff’s deputy John Allen. Allen says he left Gonzales’s office in 2019 over concerns about compromised investigations into police use of force, and he now wants shootings probed by independent agencies. (Allen himself was hit by a lawsuit over an illegal search during a patrol two decades ago.)
Republican Paul Pacheco, a former police officer and head of the local police union, is using the conservative rhetoric around crime that is so ubiquitous this campaign season, blaming “anti-police rhetoric” for fueling a rise in crime. Bernalillo is one of only two sheriff’s races in which Everytown for Gun Safety, the group founded by Mike Bloomberg, has gotten involved. Everytown launched an ad campaign accusing Pacheco of being beholden to the gun lobby. Also on the ballot: a 21-year Libertarian who says sheriffs are authoritarian and denounces policing as “local tyranny.”
16. New Mexico | Doña Ana County (Las Cruces) sheriff
Four years ago, Kim Stewart pulled off an unusual feat in this border county: She ousted the incumbent sheriff in the Democratic primary, and then beat a former Republican sheriff in the general election. Both of the men she defeated had entangled their department with federal immigration enforcement, whereas Stewart warned that a sheriff’s department should not be “the immigration police.”
Stewart’s re-election bid next week offers a similar fork in the road for immigration enforcement in the county. Republican challenger Byron Hollister is advocating for tighter collaboration with federal agents, including by participating in a CBP grant program that Stewart opposed and halted in 2019. Doña Ana County leans Democratic, giving Stewart an edge.
17. North Carolina | Alamance County sheriff
Under President Barack Obama, U.S. Department of Justice accused Terry Johnson, the county’s longtime anti-immigrant sheriff, of making racist remarks and engaging in an “egregious pattern of racial profiling.” Two presidents later, Johnson is still sheriff, still demonizes immigrants, and still draws federal attention; the Biden administration canceled an ICE contract with Alamance this year.
Johnson ran unopposed in both 2014 or 2018, despite the DOJ’s 2012 report. But this year, he landed a challenger, Kelly White, right before the final deadline. White, a Black Democrat, took part in a Souls to the Poll event last week meant to encourage voting. Just two years ago, in the run-up to the 2020 election, Johnson’s deputies pepper-sprayed voters who were marching to the polls as part of a similar event.
18. North Carolina | Columbus County sheriff
A bizarre story, as recounted by WECT: Jody Greene, the Republican sheriff of a county that is home to the city of Whiteville, started making phone calls to Jason Soles, a Democrat who had briefly replaced him, to unleash hateful, racist tirades. Soles recorded the conversations. When the tapes became public, and amid broader allegations of abuse of power against Greene, the sheriff resigned from his job in mid-October to avoid a judge removing him from office.
But Greene is not giving up on power: He is still running in the Nov. 8 sheriff’s election. And his opponent will be none other than Jason Soles, the man who recorded him.
19. North Carolina | Forsyth County (Winston Salem) prosecutor
As the former president of North Carolina’s association of state prosecutors, Republican DA Jim O’Neill has been a vocal proponent of a tough-on-crime approach, including pushing back on legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, The Winston-Salem Journal reported in a profile last month. He said the state should be more aggressive in pursuing death penalty cases, and proposed a curfew on young people based on incorrect crime data. And when the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission found evidence that two people convicted in Forsyth County may be innocent, O’Neill called for its dismantling.
O’Neill now faces Democrat Denise Hartsfield, a retired local judge. Hartsfield has sought to capitalize on the county’s blue lean and has criticized O’Neill’s style but has steered clear of a reform platform, including telling the Journal that she is not opposed to the death penalty. That has not stopped O’Neill from saying she embodies “the path of lawlessness, destruction.”
20. North Carolina | Pasquotank County sheriff
Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies shot Andrew Brown Jr., an unarmed Black man, last year, and Brown’s death was met by protests in Elizabeth City that drew national attention. “We cannot go back to the way it was before Andrew Brown, Jr.’s murder,” the head of the local NAACP told WUNC in April, as protesters decry broader racial inequities in local policing. But local conservatives responded by rallying behind Republican Sheriff Tommy Wooten and defending the deputies.
Wooten now faces Eddie Graham, a Black Democrat. “Let’s face it, Andrew Brown Jr. did not have to die,” Graham told The Daily Advance. “We cannot have a cowboy-style SWAT that lacks training, standards, and protocols.” Graham is proposing changes to deescalate interactions, such as banning no-knock warrants and having mental health professionals accompany sheriff’s deputies in responding to some emergency calls, though not necessarily to reduce them.
21. North Carolina | Wake County (Raleigh) sheriff
During his tenure as Wake County sheriff, Donnie Harrison demonized immigrants, falsely blaming them for rising property and violent crime in the state, while increasing his department’s cooperation with ICE, including participating in its 287(g) program. That hardline stance became a liability at the polls when he sought re-election in 2018, as Trump’s presidency changed the way voters viewed the issue, especially in urban counties like Wake. Harrison lost that year by a whopping 10 points to a challenger who eventually made good on his promise to pull Wake out of 287(g). Other sheriffs who collaborated with ICE in North Carolina lost as well in 2018.
Harrison is now running for his old job back. He continued to defend 287(g) until flipping his position this summer when asked about it by Jeffrey Billman for Bolts; he said he would no longer rejoin the program—a sign that ICE collaboration remains a potent issue in some local races. Willie Rowe, a former deputy who ousted the incumbent sheriff in the Democratic primary, says Harrison couldn’t afford to let this year’s election become a referendum on ICE, telling Bolts, “He wants to win. That’s the motivating factor. The numbers aren’t there to support that kind of policy.”
22. Oklahoma | Oklahoma County (Oklahoma City) prosecutor
Kevin Calvey, the Republican nominee for DA in Oklahoma’s largest county, is running on a striking vow: to drop the charges filed by the outgoing DA against five Oklahoma City police officers who shot and killed 15-year Stavian Rodriguez outside a convenience store. “I would have shot him (Rodriguez) myself,” Calvey said at a forum last year.
Calvey, a conservative firebrand and state lawmaker turned county commissioner, faces Vicki Behenna, a former federal prosecutor who served on the team that convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and who later worked with The Innocence Project, Bolts and the Oklahoma-based The Frontier reported in October. Behenna has said Calvey is pandering to the police, but she too has criticized the outgoing prosecutor for having trained relationships with local law enforcement.
23. Texas | Bexar County (San Antonio) prosecutor
Joe Gonzales made jail diversion and other criminal justice reforms the focus of his winning DA campaign in 2018. But the Democrat said it was a personal threat from the county’s former DA that first inspired him to run. As a then-defense attorney, Gonzales claimed that then-DA Nico LaHood threatened to destroy his law practice after Gonzales confronted him about withholding evidence in a case. Gonzales unseated LaHood in the Democratic primary and then won the general election that year, while LaHood eventually faced probation and a fine by the state bar.
Nico LaHood’s younger brother, Marc LaHood, is now challenging Gonzales with support from both local and state police unions, which have been predictably hostile to diversion programs Gonzales has implemented since taking office meant to prevent arrest and convictions for people accused of minor offenses, like misdemeanor marijuana possession. Marc LaHood says he will crack down on even low-level offenses, using the language of “broken windows.” He has also vowed to enforce the state’s criminal abortion ban; Gonzalez said after the Dobbs ruling he planned to not prosecute abortion cases but added he would not pledge that to avoid possible Republican preemption.
24. Texas | Dallas County prosecutor
John Creuzot helped turn Dallas County a deeper shade of blue in 2018 when he beat a sitting Republican DA on a reform platform that promised to help “end” mass incarceration. Over the past four years, he has followed through on promises to implement policies to divert people from jail, including by simply refusing to charge people for certain low-level crimes that often stem from homelessness and drug addiction. And yet, as he runs for re-election this year touting those reforms, Dallas’ jail population is now at a six-year peak. Degrading conditions inside the local lockup have grown even worse in recent years because of overcrowding and the pandemic.
Writing in Bolts in October, Tyler Hicks reports that the landscape in Dallas highlights the limits of Creuzot’s reforms and also the challenges facing reform-minded DAs in red states, where top officials are often actively hostile to decarceration. Creuzot faces the same opponent that he beat in 2018, former DA Faith Johnson, who has since then dialed up her tough-on-crime rhetoric.
25. Texas | Hays County prosecutor
The criminal legal system in fast-growing Hays County has long been defined by punitive, zero-tolerance policing and prosecution despite its close proximity to Austin, Texas’s liberal capital city. In large part that has been thanks to GOP officials like the current DA Wes Mau, who has taken a notably hard stance on low-level charges like marijuana possession.
This year’s DA election to replace the retiring Mau highlights the groundswell of local activism in recent years challenging the status quo, Michael Barajas reports in a Bolts story highlighting the work of the group Mano Amiga. Democratic nominee Kelly Higgins vows a “sea change” in the county, promising to decline prosecution of cannabis possession and implement the kind of pretrial diversion that local activists have demanded for years. Higgins faces David Puryear, who is leaning into the anti-reform, tough-on-crime rhetoric of state and national Republicans.
26. Texas | Tarrant County (Fort Worth) prosecutor
Tarrant County is the GOP’s last urban stronghold in Texas, but it has also started to break for Democrats at the top of the ticket in recent years. This year’s DA race is one of many local elections that could test that trend. Two longtime fixtures of the local court system are running to replace outgoing Republican Sharen Wilson, who had become notorious among voting rights advocates because of her selective enforcement of election laws that led to lengthy prison sentences for Rosa Ortega and Crystal Mason—women who mistakenly thought they could vote.
Tiffany Burks, the Democratic nominee and a longtime prosecutor in the office, told Bolts earlier this year that she disagreed with the direction of the office under Wilson, but she has steered clear of the kind of systematic reforms other Democratic prosecutors and candidates have pushed, like declination or diversion policies for low-level offenses. Still, Burks told Bolts that she “does not have any plan to prosecute women or anyone who facilitates an abortion, doctors or whomever—Tiffany Burks has no plans to do that.” Republican nominee Phil Sorrells, a longtime local judge running with endorsements from Trump and local police unions, seems determined to enforce the state’s abortion ban. And he has tried to paint Burks as a radical; an outside group tied to Virginia’s GOP attorney general also recently attacked Burks by sending mailers across Tarrant County with fake quotes in an attempt to make her look soft on crime.
27. Washington | Clark County (Vancouver) sheriff
Just north of Portland, Oregon, Clark County is a politically divided county that may elect a sheriff who is associating with the far-right. Rey Reynolds, a Voucouver police officer, is running as a so-called constitutional sheriff, and pledging to not enforce laws he deems unconstitutional. The growing movement of constitutional sheriffs, which has a number of adherents in the Northwest, preaches that sheriffs enjoy ultimate law enforcement authority in the U.S.. (In a recent letter, Reynolds denied belonging to a movement even as he embraced its central tenets.)
Reynolds also faces an internal police probe over statements he made on an online show that mirrored the conservative fearmongering against trans people and suggested he would ramp up arrests over it. Reynolds, who is endorsed by the state’s Fraternal Order of Police and the local GOP, faces John Horch, who has called this constitutional sheriff rhetoric “dangerous.” But Horch, a longtime sheriff’s deputy, is himself critical of state efforts to reform policing and of county efforts to increase oversight of the local jail.
28. Washington | King County (Seattle) prosecutor
Dan Satterberg is retiring this year after fifteen years as Seattle’s chief prosecutor, and local reformers have rallied behind Leesa Manion to replace him, The Stranger reports. Manion is Satterberg’s chief of staff, and she touts the launch of reforms like a program to divert people accused of a first offense away from criminal prosecution and toward social services.
Manion has cast herself as a cautious reformer, rather than embrace progressive priorities. Still, fault lines are stark between Manion and her opponent Jim Ferrell, who is running on tough-on-crime messaging, wants prosecutors to crack down on minors, and touts the backing of local police organizations. (Manion says a prosecutor should be independent from police groups.) Ferrell was part of a group of local mayors last year who called on Satterberg to end his diversion program; the group wrote another letter this summer that assailed the state’s recent criminal justice reforms and called for ramping up prosecutions, including of drug cases.
29. Washington | Klickitat County sheriff
Klickitat is a sparsely populated county in southern Washington, 100 miles east of Portland, but Sheriff Bob Songer has earned it outsized attention, including the spotlight of a New Yorker article in 2020 after he rejected the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. To justify his stance, Songer has said he had pledged an oath to the “Supreme Judge of the Universe,” which he says ties his function as sheriff to Christianity. Songer is part of the far-right movement of “constitutional sheriffs,” which says sheriffs have supreme authority when it comes to interpreting the constitution, and he has threatened to arrest state officials who pursue laws he believes are unconstitutional.
Songer now faces a tricky re-election race against fellow Republican Garique Clifford, after finishing narrowly ahead by about one percentage point in the first round in August. Clifford says Songer is too extreme and combative, but has also taken pains to not reject some of his premises regarding a sheriff’s role.
30. Washington | Spokane County prosecutor
Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell, a Republican, has been under a cloud of controversy since early this year, when the Inlander exposed racist statements by his wife, who publicly describes herself as a “proud white nationalist.” First elected in 2014, Haskell has also fought against criminal justice reforms passed by state Democrats, using his discretion as local prosecutor to effectively circumvent sentencing reforms to dial back the state’s three strikes laws, as HuffPost reported this summer.
Haskell now faces Deb Conklin, a local pastor who is running as an independent and a former prosecutor who has not practiced law since 1987. Conklin has criticized Haskell’s tough on crime approach and has proposed reforms like pretrial diversion for nonviolent offenses, The Spokesman-Review reports. Haskell and Conklin moved to this runoff after a tight first round in August, where Haskell received 28 percent and Conklin received 27 percent, with two other candidates close behind.
And some honorable mentions
There are plenty of other elections that are worth keeping an eye on.
Bolts is also watching sheriff races in California’s Monterey County, where the sheriff’s office is marred in scandals; Florida’s Duval County (Jacksonville), where an incumbent’s summer resignation triggered a special election; Washington’s Thurston County, where a right-leaning incumbent fell behind in the first round of his re-election race in August and now face a runoff; and Wisconsin’s Dane County (Madison), a heavily blue area where the Democratic sheriff told Bolts over the summer that he would not arrest people over abortion.
As for prosecutors, we are also keeping an eye on Delaware’s race for attorney general, the office that oversees prosecution in a rare state that has no elected DAs; Massachusetts’s Cape and Islands district, where a tough-on-crime prosecutor who sparred with reformers is retiring, Nebraska’s Lancaster County, where a Republican DA faces a challenger who founded a progressive political organization; and New Hampshire’s Hillsborough County, where the former chair of the national Libertarian Party is challenging a Republican incumbent.
Prosecutors and sheriffs are just one slice of the pie when it comes to criminal justice, of course. Tuesday will also decide control of governorships and legislatures in most states, many attorneys general who often have prosecutorial power, the mayors meant to oversee the police, and judicial races that might change the outlook of the bench at the level of state supreme courts, with clear stakes for sentencing in a place like Michigan, or of local judgeships like in California.
Piper French contributed to the reporting. This piece also draws from earlier guides Bolts has published throughout 2022, including a national introduction to the DA and sheriff races of 2022 in February by Daniel Nichanian, a guide to elections that matter to abortion in July by Daniel Nichanian, and a guide on California elections in October by Piper French and Daniel Nichanian. Our cheat sheet of elections to watch on Nov. 8 also has other elections of import to criminal justice.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the results of the August primary in Klickitat County.
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