California district attorneys and county sheriffs elected in 2022 would get an extended six-year term under a bill moving through the Legislature designed to increase voter turnout.
Assembly Bill 759 would put voting for top county prosecutors and sheriffs on the same track as the presidential election beginning in 2028. To do that, an extra two years would be added to the four-year terms of most district attorneys and sheriffs elected during gubernatorial balloting in 2022.
Lawmakers supporting the change say they are trying to attract more young and ethnic minority voters to important county races.
“AB 759 increases political participation in countywide elections that have the most impact on daily lives of California residents,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a co-author of the bill. “This bill is not an attempt to attack the system — it will ensure that the greatest number of voters weigh in on these positions, which is good for representative democracy.”
Law enforcement opposed
But law enforcement officials, even those who would benefit from the extended terms, vehemently oppose the bill, saying it would make is easier to replace law-and-order candidates with progressive, criminal-friendly administrations.
“Tinkering with established election schedules under a flawed premise is not likely to result in any greater legitimate or informed voter participation,” said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes. “Any attempt to manipulate future elections is unethical.”
Barnes, whose first term is up in 2022, continued: “Although personally I stand to benefit from this change, I believe the electoral process has served well and should remain unhindered and not tampered with.”
Barnes’ view is echoed by state organizations representing elected sheriffs and district attorneys.
“I do not support this bill at all,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. “A bad idea on steroids, it would put both sheriffs and D.A.s on the same ballot (in Los Angeles County), creating unnecessary upheaval of the criminal justice system and create uncertainty where stability is important.”
Currently in Los Angeles County, voters cast ballots for sheriff and district attorney on different election cycles.
More opposition came from Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.
“This is a perfect example of how off-the-rails our Legislature is running. Of all the serious and immediate problems in California, this is something they feel is important?” Bianco said. “The Legislature is obviously anti-law enforcement and anti-public safety. Their goal is that this will result in the removal of sheriffs and D.A.s who they believe pose a threat to their agenda while at the same time inserting political pawns into a constitutionally protected office.
“Plain common sense and reason negate all of their talking points in support of this assault on the will of Riverside County voters in the election of their sheriff and D.A.”
‘Political power grab’
District attorneys in San Bernardino and Riverside counties also expressed their opposition to the bill.
“It’s a political power grab by legislators in Sacramento as they are specifically trying to target district attorneys who are in favor of personal accountability and public safety,” said San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson.
“The fact is that the authors of this bill are trying to impose a deal on San Bernardino County voters that would be a disadvantage to the county and impact the election cycle, which is in fact a deal they themselves would never accept,” Anderson said. “Legislators would not vote in favor of this for themselves, so why would they think that any of us that are in that election cycle would be in favor of their attempt to take power away from the counties?”
Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin agreed: “It is simply political. Let’s leave it up to the citizens of Riverside County to decide when they want to have the elections of their sheriff and district attorney. That shouldn’t be decided by Sacramento.”
The bill would not affect the Los Angeles County district attorney’s election, which is already on a presidential cycle. There, D.A. George Gascon, a lightning rod for criticism by law enforcement and crime victims’ families, was elected to his first term in November 2020.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer declined comment.
Backed by League of Women Voters
The bill, by Democrats McCarty of Sacramento and state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton, is backed by the League of Women Voters of California.
“Democracy is strongest when our representatives are chosen at elections with the highest rates and broadest diversity of voter turnout,” the league wrote in its supporting argument. “Overall, presidential elections attract significantly more voters than midterm elections. Furthermore, midterm electorates include fewer people from underrepresented populations, including youth, Black, Latino, and Asian American people, than do presidential electorates.”
“Ensuring that a larger and more inclusive pool of voters can vote for candidates who reflect their values is critical to making democracy work,” the league said.
County races will get lost on ballot
Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni, in a formal statement of opposition, said the county races will get lost in the din of the presidential race. It also will take more money to compete in a presidential year, she said.
“The bill will force nonpartisan local elections into highly partisan presidential election cycles. … The shift to presidential election years will favor wealthy campaigns which can afford to compete for voter attention in the dense presidential election cycle when advertising is scarce and expensive, and when voters focus their attention on the presidency. And ballot statements and filing fees are lower in non-presidential election cycles,” Pacioni said.
Studies have shown that generally more people vote in presidential elections than in the midterms. However, that doesn’t mean that people who vote for president will necessarily vote in county races, experts say. Voters could leave those spots blank.
Source: Orange County Register