On November 8, 2016, voters did more than just elect a new president. They voted for district attorneys, sheriffs, criminal justice reform legislation, and, in three states, the death penalty. In Nebraska, 59.6% of voters chose to repeal the abolition law passed in 2015. Oklahoma’s State Question 776 passed, protecting the death penalty through the state’s constitution. In California, home to the largest death row in the United States, voters rejected abolition-focused Proposition 62 and voted to “speed up” the death penalty by approving Proposition 66.
Despite the disappointing results on these ballot initiatives, there is still strong evidence that the death penalty is losing ground. Across the country, prosecutors who ran on the promise of criminal justice reform ousted “tough-on-crime” incumbents. In Texas, Kim Ogg replaced incumbent Devon Anderson as Harris County District Attorney. Throughout the election cycle, Ogg called attention to Anderson’s shortcomings during her tenure, including her refusal to grant a new punishment hearing to Duane Buck and her denial of prosecutorial misconduct in the case of Alfred Dewayne Brown. On election night, Ogg spoke to her plans for Harris County, telling a crowd that “we’re going to have a system that doesn’t oppress the poor.” Nueces County voters also elected a new district attorney, a former criminal defense attorney known to be “reform-minded.”
We firmly believe that the results of this year’s elections do not change the trajectory of the death penalty’s demise, even in Texas.
You can find research about public opinion on the death penalty from the Pew Research Center here: