DURHAM, N.C.—Voters in two of North Carolina’s biggest counties turned out elected sheriffs and chose reform-minded district attorneys in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries. Those candidates inaugurate new experiments in liberal criminal-justice reform on a local level, as Democrats remain shut out of power in Washington.
In Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, incumbent Sheriff Irwin Carmichael was trounced, trailing two challengers, including winner Garry McFadden. District Attorney Spencer Merriweather, who was running for the first time after being appointed last year, triumphed. In Durham County, Sheriff Mike Andrews lost by a lopsided margin to challenger Clarence Birkhead, while Satana Deberry defeated incumbent Roger Echols.
Each of these races had its own peculiar dynamics, but overall they show voters opting to get rid of incumbents and existing approaches in favor of new faces and tactics. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, criminal-justice reform has stalled at the federal level, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions pursues so-called tough-on-crime policies. In its wake, voters at the local level are finding ways to push for reform in their own communities.
In particular, this effort has focused on prosecutors. The biggest success for reformers is Larry Krasner, a defense attorney, activist, and gadfly, who shocked Philadelphia by being elected district attorney in 2017, though he is hardly alone among progressives who are seeking to become prosecutors in order to shake up practices on charging, bail decisions, and sentencing.