What’s wrong with the current dynamics around DA elections? We rely on elections to elevate conversations around important issues, but with district attorneys, that isn’t happening, which is a major reason why so many DAs are roadblocks to commonsense criminal justice reform efforts.
Why? Here are some of the reasons:
Most people don’t know who their DA is or what that person stands for.
A recent poll comissioned by the ACLU of Oregon found that only 23 percent of Oregonians said they knew who their county DA is.
Many people don’t vote for their DA.
The ACLU of Oregon recently examined DA elections from 2004 to 2014, a period that comprises six DA election cycles.
During this period, 2.8 million people voted, but only 1.8 million people voted for their DA.
This means 1 million people didn’t vote for their DA.
We have the power and responsibility to hold our district attorneys accountable, and when voters have a choice among district attorney candidates, participation in the election goes way up.
DA races are usually uncontested.
Of the 111 DA races from 2004 to 2014, only 24 of them were contested. Voters are understandably uninspired to vote in an election where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. But voter turnout does significantly increase in contested races, which alters the impact of down-ballot considerations. In the 24 contested DA races between 2004 and 2014, the undervote dropped from roughly 40% to 12%.
Election dynamics reduce public conversations about the criminal justice system and understanding of the roles DAs play:
We rely on elections to elevate public conversations around important issues. But with such a high rate of uncontested DA races, Oregon’s elections don’t allow voters to weigh-in on how we are feeling about the state of the criminal justice system. Furthermore, we now have multiple generations of voters who have never had the opportunity in their lifetimes to vote in a district attorney race that mattered. Such a dynamic means most of the public has little understanding of the role of DAs.
The governor also plays a major role in the lack of engagement around DA elections.