2018 is a year for transformation.
This year we can demand criminal justice reform, ask tough questions, and make elected prosecutors answer to the voters. This year is crucial to set the stage for the next election cycle and pave the way for reform-minded prosecutors to improve Utah’s criminal justice system.
Elected county prosecutors exercise a significant influence over the rest of the prosecutors in their office. They can shape office policy and culture to better serve their communities and address issues in the criminal justice system. A recent example is Philadelphia, where the newly-elected prosecutor has changed policies on filing charges, sentencing considerations, and jail alternatives with an aim to end mass incarceration. This approach considers the literal and figurative cost of incarceration to both the incarnated person and to the community.
In Utah, 2018 presents an opportunity for voters to choose reform-minded prosecutors that will serve four-year terms. County prosecutor candidates had until March 15 to file for candidacy. After many calls to County Clerk offices and scouring election websites, we assembled a final list of declared candidates. Our 2018 Utah Elected Prosecutor Candidate Tracker lists candidates by county, political affiliation, contact information, and whether a county election is contested. Keep in mind that this list includes only those candidates who filed with their County Clerk to run for election, and there may be write-in candidates during the general election.
Historically, Utah has had a very low number of contested general elections for county prosecutors. Uncontested elections are unremarkable in many counties, as noted in this 2014 headline, Unopposed Races the Norm In Box Elder County. We have a list of uncontested general elections available here: Uncontested Prosecutor Elections by County Since 2006. Information on uncontested county elections is still being collected.
The 2018 Utah Elected Prosecutor Candidate Tracker considers an election contested where either a single primary election or the general election is contested. This year, five counties have a single contested primary election where the only candidates are from the same political party and the primary election will chose only one of those candidates to represent the party in November’s general election: Davis County, Iron County, Kane County, Uintah County, and Wasatch County.
Interestingly, Grand County and Morgan County do not have political affiliations for elected county offices. Their unaffiliated primaries shrink the candidate pool from whatever number of candidates declared to run for county prosecutor down to two candidates for the general election. The other counties with contested general elections include candidates from more than one political party running for county prosecutor, which include Emery County, Salt Lake County, and Utah County.
The Candidate Tracker acknowledges that in Piute County, Rich County, and Wayne County no one is running for county prosecutor. A vacancy means that a county prosecutor would be appointed, which is not unusual in less populated counties. Most unusual is Daggett County, which is the only county in Utah that contracts with an attorney or law firm to fulfill the duties of the county prosecutor.
Overall in 2018, of the 29 counties in Utah there will be only 10 contested elections, and 5 of those counties feature candidates from only one political party, meaning the primary election will determine the eventual winner. In 2018, 83% of general elections for county prosecutors in Utah will be uncontested. This includes Weber County, where the only candidate and incumbent believes that no opposition means that he has "done a good enough job" during his previous four-year term.
Only 5 general elections for county prosecutors are contested, but those outcomes will impact 57% of Utahns.
Counties with uncontested elections can still question their candidate and determine where he or she stands on criminal justice reform. The candidate’s answers can be compared to his or her actions as the elected prosecutor, which will be useful during the next election cycle in 2022.
To help voters make sense of county prosecutor candidates, Utah’s Campaign for Smart Justice will submit questionnaires to each candidate to gather positions on criminal justice reform issues. Please email us questions you would like answered so we can include them in the questionnaire. In counties with contested elections, we will encourage public forums so that candidates can speak openly with voters and clarify their positions on criminal justice reform.