Have You Made Your Plan to Vote Smart Justice on Tuesday?
by Ian Pajer-Rogers
Election Day is right around the corner, on Tuesday, November 5. Do you have a plan to vote? You should make a plan to vote. Because, for an “off-year” election, there is plenty at stake.
With a number of district attorneys in competitive elections across the state, as well as a vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment called “Marsy’s Law,” the outcome of the vote on November 5 will have ramifications across Pennsylvania for years to come.
The good news is that “off-year” elections — elections that, with rare exceptions, don’t include congressional or presidential candidates — historically have low voter turnout. On its face, that may not sound like good news; we need people participating in our democracy. But with a smaller pool of voters, every vote cast has huge implications for the outcome of each race. Making a personal commitment both to vote, as well as making sure five friends get to the polls, can make a real difference.
When it comes to addressing Pennsylvania’s mass incarceration crisis, this election year brings with it a true sense of urgency and a real chance to pave the way for meaningful reform.
First, every Pennsylvanian has the opportunity to protect due process and oppose the acceleration of mass incarceration by voting “No” on Marsy’s Law.
The passage of the Marsy’s Law ballot initiative would upend the constitutional promise of “innocent until proven guilty,” could delay the release of a person from pretrial detention, and could undermine the ability of a person to appeal their conviction or sentence, all based on a false premise of protecting victims’ rights, the tools for which are already available to lawmakers.
The Marsy’s Law ballot initiative isn’t just problematic. It’s unconstitutional. You can read more about the reasons to vote against Marsy’s Law on our blog.
The second reason for the urgency around this year’s election is that many Pennsylvania counties across the commonwealth will have the opportunity to vote in competitive elections for district attorneys. District attorneys are the top law enforcement officers in their respective counties. They also happen to be the most powerful people in the criminal legal system.
Earlier this year, we sent each candidate for district attorney in Pennsylvania a survey to get a sense of where they stand on smart justice and reforming the criminal legal system. You can see if candidates in your county responded by going to our DA website and searching for your county by clicking the red button on the top of the page.
Holding Pennsylvania’s district attorneys accountable to smart justice goals is one of the most powerful ways that we can realize true reform in the criminal legal system and challenge the racism that underpins the system.
District attorneys wield enormous power at virtually every step of criminal legal proceedings. They have the power to flood jails and prisons by overcharging and with plea deals, ruin lives with the use of pretrial detention, and allow the racism that plagues the criminal legal system to go unchallenged, or worse. But prosecutors also have the power to create positive change in the system, from ending money bail to declining to prosecute low-level offenses to embracing sentencing reform, and much more.
But we can’t expect district attorneys to embrace these reforms on their own. That’s why it’s so critical that Pennsylvanians vote in competitive district attorney elections, to send a clear message to district attorneys that they are accountable to the people who elect them.
On November 5, we have a real opportunity to make huge strides in reforming the criminal legal system and challenging racism. Will you vote? Will you make sure five friends do the same? Together, we can win.
Ian Pajer-Rogers is a communications specialist at ACLU of Pennsylvania.