CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Friday, June 24, 2022

Hessick et al. on Uncontested Prosecutor Elections

Carissa Byrne HessickSarah Treul and Alexander Love (University of North Carolina School of Law, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - College of Arts and Sciences and University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, Department of Political Science) have posted Understanding Uncontested Prosecutor Elections (American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 60, Forthcoming, 2022) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Prosecutors are very powerful players in the criminal justice system. One of the few checks on their power is their periodic obligation to stand for election. But very few prosecutor elections are contested, and even fewer are competitive. As a result, voters are not able to hold prosecutors accountable for their decisions. The problem with uncontested elections has been widely recognized, but little understood. The legal literature has lamented the lack of choice for voters, but any suggested solutions have been based on only anecdote or simple descriptive analyses of election data.

Using a logistic regression analysis, this Article estimates the individual effects of a number of variables on prosecutor elections.
It finds that several factors that have been previously identified as contributing to uncontested election are not, in fact, what drives uncontested elections for prosecutors. Instead, the factors with the largest effect are whether an incumbent runs and the population of the district. It also identifies two features of state election law that contribute to the dearth of contested elections. The Article concludes by noting that these factors suggest specific policy changes that could help to increase the number of contested and competitive elections—thus ensuring that voters can help guide important criminal justice decisions in their communities.

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