July 13, 2022

Contact:  Stephanie Gomory, Communications Director, [email protected], 802-223-6304 x111

Montpelier, VT — The ACLU published the results of a survey of Vermont state’s attorney candidates today, one month ahead of the upcoming August 9 primary. As part of the ACLU’s “Your Vote, Your Prosecutor” campaign, which seeks to increase public understanding of the powerful role of Vermont’s elected prosecutors, the ACLU invited each candidate to answer fifteen questions about their positions on criminal justice issues, including police misconduct, the opioid crisis, and racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal legal system.

State’s attorneys are on the ballot in Vermont’s fourteen counties this year, with contested primaries in Chittenden, Washington, and Addison counties. Out of seventeen candidates currently running for state’s attorney, seven responded to the voter survey: Sarah George (Chittenden County); Michelle Donnelly (Washington County); Eva P. Vekos and Tim Lueders-Dumont (Addison County); John Lavoie and Zach Weight (Franklin County); and Todd A. Shove (Lamoille County).  The remaining candidates refused repeated invitations to respond over a three-week period. 

ACLU of Vermont General Counsel Jay Diaz: “Vermont’s elected prosecutors have tremendous power in our criminal legal system and in criminal justice policymaking, but they often operate with little transparency. The refusal of ten state’s attorney candidates to respond to a voter survey on the important justice issues of our time is both telling and concerning. Vermont voters overwhelmingly support criminal justice reform and oppose policies that contribute to mass incarceration. They deserve candidates who will advance smart justice reforms in line with Vermonters’ clearly stated values. These surveys should help voters make informed decisions on election day.”

Vermonters have consistently voiced strong support for criminal justice reform and opposition to mass incarceration. A recent poll showed that 84% of Vermont voters support decriminalizing low-level drug possession, with strong majorities also supporting a public health response to drug use instead of criminalization. In a November poll of Vermont voters, more than 70 percent said a better way to prevent crime is to provide greater access to mental health treatment, drug treatment, and other rehabilitative programs as opposed to sending people to prison. More than 60 percent – and four in five Democrats – said they would be more likely to vote for candidates who supported police reform.

A 2020 poll by UVM’s Center for Rural Studies reached a similar conclusion, with nearly four in five Vermonters supporting a reduction in the number of people incarcerated in Vermont through investments in community-based alternatives. A more detailed poll from 2020 likewise found “strong, consistent, and broad-based support” for criminal justice reform. Yet another poll, from 2018 – the last year state’s attorneys were on the ballot – indicated widespread public support for candidates who favored alternatives to policing and incarceration.

For many survey questions, the responding candidates aligned with the majority of Vermonters. All seven respondents pledged to hold traffic fine forgiveness and criminal record expungement clinics within their first year in office. Six of seven candidates agreed to publish policies and data on their office’s actions and would decline to prosecute minors for low-level offenses. And five of seven supported opening overdose prevention sites/mobile services and agreed to implement “Brady lists” to track dishonest and biased police.

ACLU of Vermont Executive Director James Lyall: “Vermont communities want solutions to discriminatory policing, record overdose deaths, and chronic underfunding of mental health services. Vermonters have consistently demanded a smarter justice system that invests in people over prisons, and Vermont voters should expect state’s attorney candidates to be transparent about whether or not they’re going to advance that goal.”

Part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice Vermont campaign, “Your Vote, Your Prosecutor” is designed to draw attention to the powerful but often unseen role of elected prosecutors in the criminal legal system and criminal justice policymaking. In addition to publicizing the candidate survey, the ACLU and partners will be hosting candidate forums in the weeks ahead of the August 9th primary, and encouraging Vermonters to vote their values in both the primary and general elections.

Smart Justice Vermont is a nonpartisan campaign of the ACLU of Vermont. The ACLU of Vermont does not endorse or oppose candidates for office.

The Vermont state’s attorney candidate survey is available here.