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Justice on the Ballot 2020

40 key ballot initiatives, sheriff’s elections, and prosecutorial races to watch this November.

Last Updated: November 4, 2020
Published: October 21, 2020
Scales of justice
Wesley VanDinter/Getty

With crim­inal justice on the ballot nation­wide, we’ve compiled a list of 40 ballot initi­at­ives and law enforce­ment elect­oral races worth watch­ing on Elec­tion Day. Our resource page provides short summar­ies of each crim­inal justice ballot initi­at­ive or race, with fresh and updated links to media cover­age of the contests culled from reli­able news sources.

From police over­sight to immig­ra­tion roundups in “sanc­tu­ary” juris­dic­tions, Novem­ber’s elec­tion will have far-reach­ing consequences not just for federal crim­inal justice issues but also for state and local policies. We hope our new page will serve as a handy guide lead­ing up to Elec­tion Day and beyond to help you monitor key down-ballot races and causes.

This resource will be updated regu­larly with fresh links of news and comment­ary between now and Elec­tion Day — and for as long after­ward as it takes to count the ballots and discern the winners.

Ballot Initi­at­ives


  • Cali­for­nia Propos­i­tion 17 | PASSED
    Would restore voting rights to nearly 50,000 Cali­for­nia resid­ents who have completed their prison sentences. (The Bren­nan Center) (The Appeal) (LA Times)
  • Cali­for­nia Propos­i­tion 20 | NOT PASSED
    Rolling back recent state reforms, this meas­ure would increase penal­ties and reduce parole oppor­tun­it­ies for those convicted of certain nonvi­ol­ent crimes. It also would require proba­tion officers to seek tougher penal­ties for those who repeatedly viol­ate their parole terms. (San Fran­cisco Chron­icle) (LA Times) (LA Times) (LA Times)
  • Cali­for­nia Propos­i­tion 25 | NOT PASSED
    Would elim­in­ate cash bail, ensur­ing no one would be charged fees as a condi­tion of release, and require the use of risk assess­ment tools to determ­ine if a person should be detained as a threat to public safety or a flight risk. Propos­i­tion 25 would also expand proba­tion depart­ment funds and increase judi­cial discre­tion in pretrial deten­tion decisions. (The Bren­nan Center) (Los Angeles Times) (KQED) (The Appeal) (NY Times)
  • San Diego’s Meas­ure B | PASSED
    Would create a new Commis­sion on Police Prac­tices with broad author­ity to invest­ig­ate instances of police miscon­duct. (KGTV) (The San Diego Tribune) (San Diego Union Tribune)
  • San Fran­cis­co’s Propos­i­tion D | PASSED
    Would create an over­sight board and an inspector gener­al’s office to review the conduct and miscon­duct of the sher­iff’s depart­ment as well as in-custody deaths. (KQED) (NPR) (KPBS) (San Fran­cisco Exam­iner)
  • San Fran­cis­co’s Propos­i­tion E | PASSED
    Would elim­in­ate a require­ment that the city employ a certain minimum number of police officers in any given budget year, allow­ing local offi­cials more free­dom to eval­u­ate police staff­ing needs. (Mission Local) (SF Bay)



  • Portland’s Ques­tion B | PASSED
    Would strengthen the city’s legal protec­tions against the use of facial recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy by public employ­ees, creat­ing a private right of action for resid­ents to sue the city for viol­a­tions of the ban. (Port­land Press Herald) (Willamette Week)


  • Michigan Proposal 2 | PASSED
    Would amend the state’s consti­tu­tion to require a search warrant for police to access a person’s elec­tronic commu­nic­a­tions or mater­ial. (Detroit Free Press) (WWMT)



  • Nebraska Amend­ment 1 | PASSED
    Would amend the state consti­tu­tion to elim­in­ate a provi­sion that says that slavery or inden­tured servitude may be used as a punish­ment for a crim­inal convic­tion. (KETV) (NY Times)


  • Nevada Ques­tion 3 | PASSED
    Would author­ize the State Board of Pardons Commis­sion­ers to grant pardons and make other clem­ency decisions by a major­ity vote of its members, without requir­ing the governor to be part of the major­ity. (Reno Gazette Journal) (NY Times)




  • Oregon Meas­ure 110 | PASSED
    Would further decrim­in­al­ize posses­sion of drugs like heroin and cocaine and fund a drug addic­tion and recov­ery program through proceeds from reven­ues from legal­ized recre­ational marijuana. (KATU) (Willamette Week) (Vox) (KTVL) (The Orego­nian)
  • Portland’s Meas­ure 26–217 | PASSED 
    Would amend the city charter to estab­lish a new police over­sight board with the author­ity to invest­ig­ate alleg­a­tions of police miscon­duct and impose discip­lin­ary actions against officers. (OPB)


  • Phil­adelphi­a’s Ques­tion 3 | PASSED
    Would create a Citizens Police Over­sight Commis­sion and author­ize the city coun­cil to determ­ine its scope and power. (The Phil­adelphia Inquirer) (Govern­ing)
  • Pitt­s­burgh’s Charter Amend­ment | PASSED
    Would empower the Inde­pend­ent Citizen Police Review Board to audit the police depart­ment and to require police officers to comply with invest­ig­a­tions or face termin­a­tion. (WTAE) (Pitt­s­burgh Post-Gazette)


  • Utah Consti­tu­tional Amend­ment C | PASSED
    Would amend the state consti­tu­tion to remove slavery and inden­tured servitude as a punish­ment for crime. (NBC News) (The Spec­trum) (Fox News)


District Attor­ney and Prosec­utor Races

  • Los Angeles County, Cali­for­nia
    Jackie Lacey (D) v. George Gascón (D)
    This race for the largest prosec­utor’s office in the U.S. pitted an embattled incum­bent, Lacey, versus a former San Fran­cisco district attor­ney, Gascón, who also served as police chief in Mesa, Arizona. Lacey became the first woman and the first African Amer­ican to hold the office in 2012. Racial justice, poli­cing, capital punish­ment, and gang activ­it­ies all were key compon­ents of the race. (LA Times) (The New York Times) (LA Times) (Daily News) (LA Times) (LAist) (Dead­line) (The Appeal) (Law360) (LA Times)
  • Travis County, Texas
    Martin Harry (R) v. Jose Garza (D)
    This race for an open seat had a former public defender, Garza, squar­ing off against a local lawyer, Harry. Both candid­ates said that justice reform is needed. Use-of-force stand­ards and bail became key campaign issues. (KXAN) (The Appeal)
  • Mari­copa County, Arizona
    Julie Gunnigle (D) v. Allister Adel (R)
    Either candid­ate was poised to become the first woman elec­ted prosec­utor in the county. Adel was the incum­bent, having been tapped to replace long­time prosec­utor Bill Mont­gomery when he was appoin­ted as a state supreme court judge. Gunnigle worked as a prosec­utor in Illinois and Indi­ana and as a law professor. Key issues in the race included decreas­ing the county’s high incar­cer­a­tion rate, drug policy, police account­ab­il­ity, and poten­tial future abor­tion prosec­u­tions. (Arizona Repub­lic) (The Davis Vanguard) (Amer­ican Prospect) (AZ Cent­ral)
  • New Orleans, Louisi­ana
    Keva Landrum (D) v. Arthur Hunter (D) v. Jason Willi­ams (D) v. Morris Reed (D)
    The four candid­ates vying to succeed Leon Canniz­zarro as Orleans Parish district attor­ney hardly agreed on anything at all — and the race became extraordin­ar­ily conten­tious — except that they wanted to make dramatic changes to the way Canniz­zarro handled wrong­ful convic­tions, cases involving police miscon­duct, and drug prosec­u­tions. Three of the four candid­ates were retired judges (Hunter, Landrum, and Reed), while Willi­ams is the city coun­cil pres­id­ent. ( ( (WDSU) ( (
  • 18th Judi­cial District, Color­ado
    John Kell­ner (R) v. Amy Padden (D)
    This race, in the suburbs of Denver, pits two highly backed candid­ates to succeed Repub­lican George Brauchler. Kell­ner is one of Brauchler’s depu­ties who has worked the county’s cold-case unit for the past eight years. He says he’ll push for more trans­par­ency within the office. Padden, a former federal prosec­utor and current deputy district attor­ney in a differ­ent district, has pushed for senten­cing reform and expand­ing diver­sion programs. (The Appeal) (The Denver Post)
  • DeKalb County, Illinois
    Anna Wilhelmi (D) v. Rick Amato (R)
    The chal­lenger, Wilhelmi, support­ted the appoint­ment of special prosec­utors in cases involving alleg­a­tions of police miscon­duct. The incum­bent, Amato, did not embraced bail reforms because he was concerned about victim safety implic­a­tions. Both candid­ates suppor­ted drug courts. (North­ern Public Radio) (Daily Chron­icle)
  • John­son County, Kansas
    Steve Howe (R) v. Zach Thomas (D)
    Howe, the incum­bent, faced a Demo­cratic chal­lenger for the first time in 12 years. Thomas, a former public defender, hoped a larger than usual Demo­cratic turnout would buoy his chances in the state’s largest county. He wanted to util­ize drug and mental health courts. Howe has said he hopes to continue to work with law enforce­ment agen­cies to “aggress­ively prosec­ute viol­ent crim­in­als, includ­ing those involved in drug related offenses in our community.” (The Kansas City Star) (Shawnee Mission Post)
  • Oakland County, Michigan
    Karen McDon­ald (D) v. Lin Goetz (R)
    There is a new county attor­ney for the first time since 2008. McDon­ald, a former judge and assist­ant district attor­ney, beat the incum­bent, Jessica Palmer, in the Demo­cratic primary earlier this year. McDon­ald wanted to focus on reform­ing the county’s bail system. Goetz, a defense attor­ney, is also a former prosec­utor. She wanted to create a Convic­tion Integ­rity Unit. (The Detroit News) (The Detroit News)
  • Orange-Osceola County, Flor­ida
    Jose Torroella (Ind.) v. Monique Worrell (D)
    This is the seat held by Aramis Ayala (D), the state attor­ney whose posi­tion on the death penalty created historic conflicts with Repub­lican offi­cials in the state. Torroella, a defense attor­ney and former prosec­utor, said he would add a unit to the office to prosec­ute polit­ical corrup­tion but that he does­n’t think the county needs crim­inal justice reform. Worrell vowed to end unne­ces­sary incar­cer­a­tion for those convicted of nonvi­ol­ent crimes and wants to hold police who engage in seri­ous miscon­duct account­able. (Orlando Sentinel) (The Appeal)

Sher­iff’s Races

  • Brevard County, Flor­ida
    Wayne Ivey (R) v. Alton Edmond (D)
    This race pitted Ivey, who created the coun­try’s first statewide task force on iden­tity theft, against a chal­lenger, Edmond, a Black former public defender who suppor­ted body cameras for police. (The Marshall Project) (Flor­ida Today) (Flor­ida Today)
  • Char­le­ston County, South Caro­lina
    Kristin Grazi­ano (D) v. Al Cannon (R)
    The incum­bent, Cannon, had never had a general elec­tion chal­lenger despite being in office since 1988. Grazi­ano, one of Cannon’s former depu­ties, said it was time for a change. One key issue: the way local police handled racial justice protests earlier this year. (The Char­le­ston City Paper) (Post and Cour­ier) (Count On News) (ABC News)
  • Gwin­nett County, Geor­gia
    Keybo Taylor (D) v. Lou Solis (R)
    A key factor in the race was the county’s parti­cip­a­tion in ICE’s 287 (g) program, a part­ner­ship between ICE and local law enforce­ment agen­cies that trains local police to identify and process undoc­u­mented immig­rants with pending crim­inal charges. Taylor said he’ll limit the prac­tice. Solis said he’d keep the program. (The Appeal) (Atlanta Journal-Consti­tu­tion)
  • Hamilton County, Ohio
    Bruce Hoff­bauer (R) v. Char­maine McGuffey (D)
    Here was another open race. McGuffey, a veteran of the sher­iff’s office, beat the incum­bent in the Demo­cratic primary earlier this year. Hoff­bauer served 34 years in the Cincin­nati police depart­ment. Neither candid­ate suppor­ted police “defund­ing,” but they differed on the use of social work­ers and others to help with police work. (WVXU) (Cincin­nati Enquirer)
  • Harris County, Texas
    Ed Gonza­lez (D) v. Joe Danna (R)
    Gonza­lez was the first-term incum­bent in this bell­wether Texas county, with a large jail popu­la­tion and ICE-related contro­ver­sies, where he faced a Repub­lican chal­lenger who said that local police are over­whelmed and under­staffed. (The Hous­ton Chron­icle) (The Hous­ton Chron­icle)
  • Mari­copa County, Arizona
    Paul Penzone (D) v. Jerry Sheridan (R)
    Mari­copa County Sher­iff’s Office is one of the largest in the nation. Penzone beat long­time lawman Joe Arpaio and now faces one of Arpaio’s former colleagues, who defeated his old boss in the Repub­lican primary. Immig­ra­tion enforce­ment is a huge issue in this county, and so is racial injustice in poli­cing. (Arizona Repub­lic) (AZ Cent­ral) (Arizona Repub­lic)
  • Norfolk County, Massachu­setts
    Jerry McDer­mott (R) v. Patrick McDer­mott (D)
    This was a special elec­tion is to fill the final two years of former Sher­iff Michael Bellot­ti’s term, who stepped down in 2018 to become the pres­id­ent of Quincy College. A key issue in the race was the condi­tion of the county jail and the pris­on­ers housed there during the pandemic. (The Patriot Ledger) (The Patriot Ledger) (Sun Chron­icle)
  • Oakland County, Michigan
    Vincent Gregory (D) v. Michael Bouchard (R)
    Bouchard was running for his sixth four-year term in office and with­stood the “blue wave” that has seen Demo­cratic victor­ies in other local races. Gregory, the chal­lenger, was a former state senator and retired Wayne County detect­ive. If elec­ted, he would have been the county’s first Black sher­iff. The use of body cameras is one issue that divides these candid­ates as well as respect for the governor’s Covid-19 lock­down orders. (Detroit Free Press) (Oakland Press) (Detroit Free Press)
  • Pinel­las County, Flor­ida
    Bob Gual­tieri (R) v. Eliseo Santana (D)
    This was one of the more conten­tious sher­iff races across the coun­try. Santana, the chal­lenger, accused Gual­tieri of foster­ing a “good ole boy” network within his depart­ment that has toler­ated systemic racism in poli­cing. Santana said he would prior­it­ize community poli­cing while Gual­i­teri touted his agency’s arrest diver­sion programs. (Tampa Bay Times) (Tampa Bay Times) (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Travis County, Texas
    Sally Hernan­dez (D) v. Raul Vargas (R)
    Vargas wanted the county sher­iff’s depart­ment to do more to combat home­less­ness. The incum­bent, Hernan­dez, mean­while, was focus­ing on the construc­tion of a new women’s jail. (States­man) (States­man)
  • Wayne County, Missouri
    Woody Massa (R) v. Dean Finch (D)
    One key issue here for long­time incum­bent Finch is the state of the county jail, where a lawsuit and grow­ing number of complaints allege uncon­sti­tu­tional condi­tions of confine­ment. (The Marshall Project)