Several Republican state legislators recently introduced a bill to allow voters to remove prosecutors if they’re dissatisfied with their performance.
Assemblyman William A. Barclay of Pulaski, Sen. Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda and Assemblyman Michael Tannousis of Staten Island want to amend the state constitution to establish a process to recall district attorneys. The lawmakers believe this could help restore people’s faith in the criminal justice system.
“Soft-on-crime district attorneys across the country have put criminals interests before law-abiding citizens. This is no more evident than in New York County where the sitting district attorney sent a memo days after taking office instructing prosecutors to avoid seeking jail time for all but the most serious crimes. This amendment seeks to hold a district attorney accountable for their policies once they take office and provides the electorate with a mechanism to remove a district attorney [who] has lost the public’s trust or provided a dereliction of duty. Under current law, the governor has the power to remove a district attorney from office. This amendment would put that power back in the hands of the people.”
Proposing recall provisions is a tempting option for elected officials from time to time. They get to rail against the abuses of our democratic system and champion something that may right these wrongs. In calling for such measures, politicians make it seem like they’re handing back some power to their constituents.
The four Republican legislators were emboldened by last week’s election in which San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled. They obviously would like to see the same thing occur to New York County District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr.; Barclay wrote this for iHeartOswego.com:
“Earlier this week, San Francisco voters voted to recall soft-on-crime District Attorney Chesa Boudin after drastic increases in crime throughout the city. Progressive Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has followed a similar soft-on-crime policy, despite the increase in violent crime throughout New York City. New York state does not currently have recall elections, but the governor has the authority to remove district attorneys who fail to do their jobs and enforce the law. Earlier this year, legislative Republicans stressed that Bragg should not be allowed to hold his office as district attorney after declaring he wouldn’t prosecute certain crimes.”
The problem with proposed recall measures is that we already possess a mechanism for removing district attorneys who aren’t doing their job (or any other public official, for that matter): elections! Every few years, they need to win the popular vote to keep their positions. So we the people have the authority to remove them from office if we’re not happy.
Absent conclusive evidence that the individual committed a crime, recalling elected officials before their term is up is bad for a representative democracy. Elections have consequences, and voters must accept the fact that the person they put into office will remain in this position for a designated period of time — despite how unpopular they become.
When we dilute this aspect of the electoral process, it begins losing its significance. Why worry about who’s running for office this year if we can simply toss them out with a recall vote next year?
Learning as much as we can about candidates and urging everyone eligible to vote to do so are crucial to our system of government. Setting up a recall process would diminish the serious responsibility that voters have in selecting those who will represent them. State legislators should reject this proposal.