How DA Elections Work
Tennessee is divided into 31 judicial districts, each of which has its own elected district attorney.
All of Tennessee’s DAs are white. Only four are women.[i] The decisions DAs make have the power to impact entire communities. Increasing diversity among district attorneys and their staffs is vital to bringing different perspectives into the office and ensuring that prosecutors are better equipped to understand and respond to the needs of the communities they serve.
However, in Tennessee’s last district attorney election, 20 of the 31 DA races – or 65 percent – were uncontested.
Tennessee’s district attorneys serve for 8-year terms – among the longest terms in the nation. The last DA election in Tennessee was held in 2014. The next will be in 2022. Elections are a significant way DAs are held accountable – that’s when they answer to you, the voter.
Across the country, voters overwhelmingly prefer district attorney candidates who commit to reform:
- 89 percent of voters say it is very important for prosecutors to actively work toward ending mass incarceration
- 88 percent of voters are more likely to support a prosecutor who believes in reducing racial bias in the criminal justice system
- 79 percent of voters say they are much more likely to support DA candidates who believe they are responsible for holding police who break the law accountable [ii]
Many locally elected prosecutors go on to higher office, impacting the nation’s criminal legal system.
Recent research describes the rise of the “prosecutor politician” as a political force, and the detrimental impact this has had on our criminal legal system. The study’s author, Fordham University historian Jed Shugerman, contends that being a prosecutor has become a “stepping stone for higher office… with dramatic consequences in American criminal law and mass incarceration.”
Office Holders with Prosecutorial Backgrounds (2007–2017)[iii]
- 38 percent of state attorneys general
- 19 percent of governors
- 10 percent of U.S. senators
- 38 members of the 117th Congress are former prosecutors (9 in the Senate, 29 in the House)[iv]
Learn About the Candidates
Before voting for your local district attorney, make sure you know about the candidates:
- Are they committed to racial justice?
- Will they work to end mass incarceration?
- Will they seek justice, not conviction rates?
- Do they share your values of equity and equality?
- Will they help or harm your community?
We encourage you to research the candidates for elected district attorney positions in your area, contact those individuals, attend or organize candidate forums, and make sure you know who you are electing to these crucial positions.
ACLU-TN is a private, non-partisan organization that does not endorse or support any individual candidate for office. We are committed to empowering voters so that they know more about the candidates running for DA in their communities. We are also committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of DA offices, and to increasing awareness about transformative justice.
Register to Vote
Register to vote or update your address with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office.
If you are unsure if you are registered or not, or if you have moved since the last time you voted, you may need to update your voter records. Click here to check your registration, to register to vote, to check whether the address where you are currently registered is correct, and to update your address records, if necessary.
If you have moved since the last time you voted, the address on your voter registration needs to be updated. Even if you are certain that you have voted since the last time you moved, you may wish to check. It is a good idea to double check that the Secretary of State’s office has your correct information and voting address. You can check your address and, if it is incorrect, update your voter registration here.
Term Lengths of State’s Attorneys and Equivalents in the U.S.
Tennessee’s district attorney lengths are among the longest in the nation. Nationally, 43 out of 50 states (86 percent) limit district attorney terms to four years or less, while three states (6 percent) set their term limits to six years. Tennessee is the only state in the Southern region where district attorneys are elected for eight-year terms. Eight years is far too long for district attorneys to go without accountability to the voters.
|State||Term Length||Title of Position|
|New Hampshire||2 years||County Attorney|
|Arizona||4 years||County Attorney|
|Arkansas||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Colorado||4 years||District Attorney|
|Utah||4 years||County Attorney, called District Attorney in Salt Lake County|
|Washington||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|California||4 years||District Attorney|
|Delaware||4 years||Attorney General*|
|Florida||4 years||State Attorney|
|Georgia||4 years||District Attorney|
|Hawaii||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Idaho||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Illinois||4 years||State’s Attorney|
|Indiana||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Iowa||4 years||County Attorney|
|Kansas||4 years||County Attorney and District Attorney|
|Maine||4 years||District Attorney|
|Maryland||4 years||State’s Attorney|
|Massachusetts||4 years||District Attorney|
|Michigan||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Minnesota||4 years||County Attorney|
|Mississippi||4 years||District Attorney|
|Missouri||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney (Called Circuit Attorney in city of St. Louis)|
|Montana||4 years||County Attorney|
|Nebraska||4 years||County Attorney|
|Nevada||4 years||District Attorney|
|New Mexico||4 years||District Attorney|
|New York||4 years||District Attorney|
|North Carolina||4 years||District Attorney|
|North Dakota||4 years||State’s Attorney|
|Ohio||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Oklahoma||4 years||District Attorney|
|Oregon||4 years||District Attorney|
|Pennsylvania||4 years||District Attorney|
|Rhode Island||4 years||Attorney General**|
|South Carolina||4 years||Circuit Solicitor|
|South Dakota||4 years||State’s Attorney|
|Texas||4 years||County Attorney, District Attorney, and Criminal District Attorney|
|Vermont||4 years||State’s Attorney|
|Virginia||4 years||Commonwealth’s Attorney|
|West Virginia||4 years||Prosecuting Attorney|
|Wisconsin||4 years||District Attorney|
|Wyoming||4 years||District Attorney; County and Prosecuting Attorney|
|New Jersey||5 years||County Prosecutor ***|
|Alabama||6 years||District Attorney|
|Kentucky||6 years||Commonwealth Attorney|
|Louisiana||6 years||District Attorney|
|Connecticut||8 years||State’s Attorney****|
|Tennessee||8 years||District Attorneys General|
|Alaska||No set term length — serve at the pleasure of the Attorney General||District Attorney*****|
* Delaware does not have district attorneys. The criminal division of the Delaware Department of Justice handles prosecutions, and it is led by the attorney general.
** There are no district attorneys for Rhode Island. The attorney general’s office handles prosecution.
*** Unless otherwise specified, each of the positions outlined in this chart is elected. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Alaska are exceptions to this. New Jersey county prosecutors are nominated and appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
**** Connecticut state’s attorneys are appointed by the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC).
***** Alaska district attorneys are appointed by the attorney general.