Do you know the name of your county’s sheriff? If you’re like 83% of your fellow Massachusetts residents, it’s likely you don’t, according to a newly released survey by the ACLU of Massachusetts.
“There is a real potential to change how voters view sheriffs and to change how they look at candidates for sheriff, and to increase participation by informing them in that way,” said Chris Anderson of Beacon Research, who conducted the poll alongside the ACLU.
The ACLU conducted this research in January in advance of a campaign called “Know Your Sheriff,” with the intent of informing voters about the role sheriffs play in the state’s criminal justice system ahead of this year’s election.
The group carried out a similar campaign for district attorneys in 2018, and found notable increases in ballots cast for DA races: a 16% increase in ballots cast for DA in Middlesex County, a 35% increase in Suffolk County, and a 123% increase in Berkshire County.
Among Beacon Research’s findings this time around, 52% of Bristol County residents knew the name of their sheriff, Thomas Hodgson, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter who has partnered with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to identify undocumented immigrants before his contract was stripped last year.
Results went downhill from there: 33% of Franklin County residents knew their sheriff, and 30% of Hampden County residents knew theirs. Just 8% of residents in the state’s most populous county, Middlesex, knew the name of their sheriff, and only 6% of Suffolk County residents knew their sheriff’s name, the lowest of the groups.
Additionally, 41% of respondents did not know that sheriffs are elected and 90% did not know that the length of their terms is six years. Once surveyors shared that sheriffs are responsible for matters including overseeing county jails, deciding what rehabilitation, substance abuse and educational programs are offered in jails and choosing whether to cooperate with ICE, the slice of respondents planning to vote for sheriff jumped from 45% to 71%.
“The 14 sheriffs elected in Massachusetts are elected officials who make decisions every day that impact people and communities, from increasing treatment options for people suffering from substance use disorder to rejecting policies that split families apart,” said Carol Rose, executive director of ACLU Massachusetts.
Respondents were also asked about the attributes most important to them in a sheriff. The most important trait was experience in law enforcement, with 84% citing this as “extremely” or “very” important. Another 82% said support for drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs for incarcerated people was “extremely” or “very” important, while 79% ranked support for vocational programs as “extremely” or “very” important, and 78% said the same about a commitment to racial justice.
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