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Old 10-26-2019, 06:09 PM
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Direct election of District Attorney/Sheriffs, etc


This is a question from a Non-US perspective, so I may be entirely full of shit, because I am unaware of a nuance or a wider perspective. However it appears to me that holding public elections for 'Law & Order' style positions, appears to produce individuals pursuing the jobs, that are
A) Not necessarily the best qualified to do the job,
B) Beholden to interests that supported them in the election, and
C) in some cases resulting in an individual far more interested in securing arrests and/or convictions to the point of being biased, deliberately obtuse, or simply ignoring inconvenient facts.

What are the counter arguments/benefits of the direct elections for these types of positions that I'm missing?
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Old 10-26-2019, 06:26 PM
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The alternative will be an appointment after the election. It is often long-term and difficult to remove the appointee, but short term means it just changes with a vote for someone else. The same points you make apply to the appointees, except they are not directly removable through a vote. Remember that the appointment will be made by an elected official with just the same problems.

Last edited by TriPolar; 10-26-2019 at 06:26 PM.
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Old 10-26-2019, 08:05 PM
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
The alternative will be an appointment after the election. It is often long-term and difficult to remove the appointee, but short term means it just changes with a vote for someone else. The same points you make apply to the appointees, except they are not directly removable through a vote. Remember that the appointment will be made by an elected official with just the same problems.
That's not how it works in Canada. The starting point is that the prosecutions service, like the public service generally, is by law non-partisan. The independence of the prosecutions service is extremely important , and that is particularly important for the appointment of prosecutors. The upper levels of the prosecution service are appointed by the cabinet in most jurisdictions, but on the recommendation of the Attorney General, who acts in turn on the recommendation of the Deputy AG and the Director of Public Prosecutions, who are both non-partisan. The appointments are generally made from within the professional non-partisan prosecution service, or by open hire public competitions.

Crown prosecutors are politically neutral in carrying out their duties. Since they don't face election, they don't have to campaign on being " tough on crime" or "he's locked up X% of his accuseds." There's no turn-over in the ranks of the Crowns after an election, even when there's a change in government.

The Crown motto is: " The Crown neither wins or loses."
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Old 10-26-2019, 08:59 PM
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Originally Posted by GreedySmurf View Post
A) Not necessarily the best qualified to do the job,
B) Beholden to interests that supported them in the election, and
C) in some cases resulting in an individual far more interested in securing arrests and/or convictions to the point of being biased, deliberately obtuse, or simply ignoring inconvenient facts.
Someone appointed to the position may not be the best qualified for the job either. (Several states actually set minimum qualifications for someone to be elected sheriff.) An appointed official is beholden to those who appoint them and may not necessarily have the best interest of the people in mind. Honestly, the arguments you make above seem like valid arguments against the democratic process in general.


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What are the counter arguments/benefits of the direct elections for these types of positions that I'm missing?
I find that Europeans are generally baffled by the sheer number of elected officials we have here in the United States. The long and the short of it is that many Americans felt electing officials made them more accountable to the people rather than a politician.
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Old 10-26-2019, 11:48 PM
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County prosecutors are elected in Ohio. They appoint their subordinates and, in a populous county, there may be very little turnover from election to election in a large office other than in the county prosecutor's top management team. Electing prosecutors (and county commissioners, and recorders, treasurers, auditors, sheriffs and even coroners) is a legacy of the Progressive Era, when it was thought better to allow the people to choose their public officials rather than to have them handpicked by other politicians. The system doesn't always produce disinterested philosopher-kings, to be sure. But I don't think, all in all, that we have many more hacks and idjits by electing our prosecutors than we would if there were some kind of appointive system.
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Old 10-28-2019, 11:51 AM
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The outcomes of any governmental system are only as good as its sovereign. For democracies, that means the electorate needs to be informed voters. More layers between power and the electorate can mitigate its worst tendencies, but it also increases the points where the system can fail in other ways.
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Old 11-01-2019, 05:36 PM
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The reason why electing law enforcement officers seems odd to many non-Americans is that law enforcement is the type of public position where we don't think direct accountability through elections is wise. Law enforcement has to enforce the law regardless whether it is popular or not, regardless whether they personally agree with the law or not, regardless who the alleged law-breaker may be.

All of those requirements seem incompatible with the idea of local popular elections. That critique is not anti-democratic, it's based on the idea that not all public offices need to be filled by election, particularly if direct election may put the person in conflict with the obligations of the position.

Plus, there's the ugly side of popular elections: What if the people want their law enforcement to be mean sons-a-bitches who don't really care about fair enforcement of the law? Particularly if there's a racial element involved?

Looking at you, Sheriff Arpaio: civil rights actions, federal civil rights conviction, several millions lost to the county to pay civil damages, but he kept getting elected. The popular accountability there seemed to favour unlawful conduct by the sheriff, because it was targeted at brown-skinned people.

How well did accountability to the people work when the majority in a particular community were whit, and the minority were black? How often did black sheriffs get elected in those areas, prior to Civil Rights Acts which imposed federal DOJ oversight on the local law-enforcement?
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Old 11-01-2019, 05:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
The reason why electing law enforcement officers seems odd to many non-Americans is that law enforcement is the type of public position where we don't think direct accountability through elections is wise. Law enforcement has to enforce the law regardless whether it is popular or not, regardless whether they personally agree with the law or not, regardless who the alleged law-breaker may be.

All of those requirements seem incompatible with the idea of local popular elections. That critique is not anti-democratic, it's based on the idea that not all public offices need to be filled by election, particularly if direct election may put the person in conflict with the obligations of the position.

Plus, there's the ugly side of popular elections: What if the people want their law enforcement to be mean sons-a-bitches who don't really care about fair enforcement of the law? Particularly if there's a racial element involved?

Looking at you, Sheriff Arpaio: civil rights actions, federal civil rights conviction, several millions lost to the county to pay civil damages, but he kept getting elected. The popular accountability there seemed to favour unlawful conduct by the sheriff, because it was targeted at brown-skinned people.

How well did accountability to the people work when the majority in a particular community were whit, and the minority were black? How often did black sheriffs get elected in those areas, prior to Civil Rights Acts which imposed federal DOJ oversight on the local law-enforcement?
I don't really disagree with any of that- but there's really only three options. Either they are 1) directly elected , 2) appointed by a chain of people that ends in someone who is elected or 3) appointed by a monarch. Option 3 is of course not available in hte US, so we are left with 1 & 2. Even if you restrict the possible candidates to only those already in the ranks someone is going to have to choose the one person who gets the job- and I'm not so sure having the elected governor choose the District Attorney or the Attorney General ( even from among the current staff) is that much better than having a popular election for the office.

Last edited by doreen; 11-01-2019 at 05:49 PM.
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Old 11-01-2019, 05:58 PM
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How about military officers? Should they be elected?

And if not, why not? Why elect an Attorney General but not an Army General?
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Old 11-01-2019, 06:08 PM
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For that matter, why hire police officers? Why not elect them on a ward-by-ward basis, so you have an entirely elected police force? Would opposition to that approach be seen as anti-democratic?
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Last edited by Northern Piper; 11-01-2019 at 06:10 PM.
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Old 11-01-2019, 07:16 PM
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An appointed position invites nepotism.

An elected position invites populist candidates.

Neither favor qualified parties.
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Old 11-01-2019, 09:32 PM
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I don't really disagree with any of that- but there's really only three options. Either they are 1) directly elected , 2) appointed by a chain of people that ends in someone who is elected or 3) appointed by a monarch. Option 3 is of course not available in hte US, so we are left with 1 & 2. Even if you restrict the possible candidates to only those already in the ranks someone is going to have to choose the one person who gets the job- and I'm not so sure having the elected governor choose the District Attorney or the Attorney General ( even from among the current staff) is that much better than having a popular election for the office.
I think you're drawing too black and white a picture, by reducing the appointment process to one person. An alternative is to make the appointment process a collective decision, so the appointee does not owe their appointment to any one person. There can also be strict guarantees for the position, so that once appointed, that person has independence and guaranteed tenure, only removable for cause, defined in the statute.

And, there can also be statutory requirements for non-partisanship, as I mentioned in my earlier post. (I know that many US posters here seem sceptical that there can ever be non-partisanship, but that doesn't match my experience in Canada. May be an artifact of our different political systems.). And, there can also be institutional guarantees for the people lower down in the organization, that they can only be dismissed for breach of professional standards, and only by the higher ups in the LEO organization, not the politicians. Essentially, a system of checks and balances within the organisation, designed to protect professionalism and non-partisanship, and shielding from political influence in a way that is not possible when the Chief or Sheriff is a politician.)

Note that in Canada, we combine your options 2 and 3: appointed by the monarch, on the advice of a group of elected officials (we don't have any officials who are elected and have the sole appointing power), acting on the advice of the professionals. That diffusion of responsibility for the appointment, coupled with statutory guarantees of tenure and non-partisanship, greatly reduces the chance of political interference.
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Old 11-01-2019, 10:04 PM
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An appointed position invites nepotism.

An elected position invites populist candidates.

Neither favor qualified parties.
So we're doomed.
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Old 11-01-2019, 10:11 PM
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So we're doomed.
To mediocrity.
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Old 11-03-2019, 04:34 AM
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An appointed position invites nepotism.
Neither favor qualified parties.
That depends on how you organise the appointing process and who takes the final decisions. Of course, if you insist on an elected politician having sole power of appointment the moment they come into office, then you're right. But if you have a professionalised public service in the police and the prosecution service, with transparent criteria and processes for appointment, they can proceed independently of electoral cycles.
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Old 11-03-2019, 04:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
The reason why electing law enforcement officers seems odd to many non-Americans is that law enforcement is the type of public position where we don't think direct accountability through elections is wise. Law enforcement has to enforce the law regardless whether it is popular or not, regardless whether they personally agree with the law or not, regardless who the alleged law-breaker may be.
The bizarre thing about electing sheriffs in particular is that a large number of Americans (probably most) live in incorporated municipalities with appointed police chiefs, so it's not some foreign concept for us to not elect the leader of our local police. I live in a city with its own police department, so when I vote for my county's sheriff, I'm mostly voting for who runs the police service for where other people live (they do run the jail and provide court services for the whole county, though). And I don't think it's really an issue in my county, but it's very easy to imagine that there are places where this...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
Plus, there's the ugly side of popular elections: What if the people want their law enforcement to be mean sons-a-bitches who don't really care about fair enforcement of the law? Particularly if there's a racial element involved?
...could be made even more problematic by a sheriff only policing some neighborhoods.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 11-03-2019 at 04:58 AM.
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Old 11-03-2019, 05:03 AM
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It also helps to have an independent professional inspectorate for such services as well, by the way.
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Old 11-03-2019, 11:58 AM
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Yes, I'm afraid I think the "either / or" leading to mediocrity is too simplistic. It takes more work to design a system that encourages excellence than a simple appointment or election process, but properly designed, you get very good people, using professional standards, in the LEO.
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Old 11-03-2019, 12:55 PM
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The reason why electing law enforcement officers seems odd to many non-Americans is that law enforcement is the type of public position where we don't think direct accountability through elections is wise.
We used to live with what was known as the spoils system where it was expected that a newly elected official would fill any appointed offices with his cronies. This did not sit well with some people which is one of the reasons we have so many elected officials here in the U.S.

Quote:
All of those requirements seem incompatible with the idea of local popular elections. That critique is not anti-democratic, it's based on the idea that not all public offices need to be filled by election, particularly if direct election may put the person in conflict with the obligations of the position.
In the United States, an appointed official typically serves at the pleasure of some elected official. An appointed official who is not doing their job or who is doing it poorly might remain in their position anyone if the politician who appointed them approves.

Quote:
Plus, there's the ugly side of popular elections: What if the people want their law enforcement to be mean sons-a-bitches who don't really care about fair enforcement of the law? Particularly if there's a racial element involved?
What about the other side? A sheriff who is a mean son-of-a-bitch might get voted out of office.

Quote:
How well did accountability to the people work when the majority in a particular community were whit, and the minority were black? How often did black sheriffs get elected in those areas, prior to Civil Rights Acts which imposed federal DOJ oversight on the local law-enforcement?
There were plenty of appointed law enforcement leaders in the past and the present who violated the Civil Rights of minorities.
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Old 11-03-2019, 01:34 PM
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And, there can also be statutory requirements for non-partisanship, as I mentioned in my earlier post. (I know that many US posters here seem sceptical that there can ever be non-partisanship, but that doesn't match my experience in Canada. May be an artifact of our different political systems.). And, there can also be institutional guarantees for the people lower down in the organization, that they can only be dismissed for breach of professional standards, and only by the higher ups in the LEO organization, not the politicians. Essentially, a system of checks and balances within the organisation, designed to protect professionalism and non-partisanship, and shielding from political influence in a way that is not possible when the Chief or Sheriff is a politician.)
I think you're right about some of it being an artifact of the different political systems. In the systems I'm familiar with in the US, most of the people further down in the organization do have guarantees and are shielded from political influence. Some of it is also due to the way the US is structured as a number of states collected into a country rather than as a country divided into states/provinces/regions. But one thing I'm pretty certain of is that if the mayor couldn't appoint the police commissioner without the approval of the city council, or if the governor couldn't appoint the head of the department of social services without the approval of the state legislature , there would be a whole lot of vacancies at the top of a lot of city and state agencies. Just because a single elected official can't make the appointment on his or her own doesn't mean politics can't come into it - I have a sneaking suspicion the whole Merrick Garland thing either couldn't or wouldn't have happened in Canada.
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Old 11-03-2019, 01:39 PM
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I don't really disagree with any of that- but there's really only three options. Either they are 1) directly elected , 2) appointed by a chain of people that ends in someone who is elected or 3) appointed by a monarch. Option 3 is of course not available in hte US, so we are left with 1 & 2. Even if you restrict the possible candidates to only those already in the ranks someone is going to have to choose the one person who gets the job- and I'm not so sure having the elected governor choose the District Attorney or the Attorney General ( even from among the current staff) is that much better than having a popular election for the office.
One factor that isnít being explicitly mentioned is that some countries like France and the United Kingdom have a tradition of putting non-political, expert government bureaucrats in positions of authority to check the power of elected and appointed officials.

We do have a civil service in the United States, But itís much more at the mercy of elected and appointed officials and canít overrule them.

So thatís one reason why Americans canít conceive of a system in which prosecutors and judges arise through non-political bureaucracies and and arenít beholden to popularity or other political winds.

Put that together with the strong cultural streak that distrusts expertise, intellect, and any other objective, non-popularity-based standard for putting someone in charge.
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Old 11-04-2019, 02:41 AM
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AIUI, the concept of non-partisan professional public service, in the UK at least, dates more or less from the mid 19th century, becoming more powerful as a result of the First World War. Which is not to say that 'jobs for the boys' disappeared overnight, or that the public service culture wasn't beset with assorted prejudices and assumptions that have in turn needed to be educated out, which is probably a never-ending job.

But it does mean that interference by politicians in individual cases, or in established processes, can get them into a lot of trouble. That basic concept is pretty widely established in the public consciousness.
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