The voters have spoken, and despite facing criticism from activists, Wake County district attorney Lorrin Freeman is on her way to a third term.
Freeman won a solid victory over challenger Damon Chetson, earning nearly 60 percent of the vote to his 40 percent.
Early voting numbers proved persistent, with the balance remaining in Freeman’s favor all night. Chetson conceded the race at 10 p.m. in an email to news outlets, saying he looks forward to ensuring Freeman and other Democrats win in November.
“It has been my honor to run for this important office, and to make the case for sensible criminal justice reform. Over the past year, I’ve met thousands of voters and community leaders and have had the opportunity to talk about shared concerns about the prosecution of crimes,” Chetson wrote.
“While District Attorney Freeman and I have our differences on policy, she has the experience and commitment to public service that is essential for Wake County.”
Chetson congratulated Freeman on her victory but suggested it was due in part to unaffiliated voters casting ballots in the Democratic primary.
Unaffiliated voters did play a large part in this year’s election, making up 41 percent of the Wake County electorate. They outweigh both Republicans and Democrats and are allowed to cast ballots in either primary.
Advocates for criminal justice reform have also been vocal in the race for Wake County district attorney. Emancipate NC and other grassroots organizations are unsatisfied with Freeman’s performance in office and have been calling for more progressive reforms, many of which became talking points during the campaign.
Freeman has been criticized for seeking the death penalty in some cases, as well as her failure to prosecute law enforcement officers involved in use of force incidents. Emancipate NC executive director Dawn Blagrove accuses her of being a “pretend progressive.”
Chetson framed himself as a more progressive candidate and pledged to implement changes if elected, including getting rid of the death penalty, ending the prosecution of low-level marijuana cases, and not seeking life sentences for those under age 18.
The ACLU of North Carolina and Forward Justice Action Network also joined the dialogue around the Wake County DA race, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to spread the word about candidates’ positions before election day.
Ultimately, however, Freeman came out the victor, presumably winning another four years in office. Whether that’s due to her status as an incumbent or her deliberate, measured approach to criminal justice is unknown. Perhaps voters were simply not as unhappy with Freeman as activists were.
In any case, Freeman’s experience has won over Chetson’s lofty campaign promises. Whether Freeman will bow to pressure to take more aggressive action on criminal justice reform remains to be seen.
Freeman will face Republican Jeff Dobson in the November election.
See a list of unofficial election results for Wake County here.
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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.