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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

  • 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)

Kentucky

Maine

  • 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

  • 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)

Montana

Nebraska

  • 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

  • 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)

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

  • 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)

Pennsylvania

  • 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

  • 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)

Washington

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 | Live Results
    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 - RUNOFF
    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. (NOLA.com) (NOLA.com) (WDSU) (NOLA.com)
     
  • 18th Judicial District, Colorado | Live Results
    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 | Live Results
    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 | Live Results
    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)