Gator DeLoach unofficial winner in Putnam County sheriff's race

427 extra ballots, 2 recounts change outcome in race

PALATKA, Fla. – After 427 extra ballots were tallied and two recounts, Democrat Gator DeLoach is the unofficial winner in the Putnam County sheriff's race.

DeLoach was 13 votes ahead of Republican Jon Kinney Friday night after a hand recount of the ballots.

DeLoach said the formal announcement that he won will not be made until Nov. 18 because there is a 10-day waiting period for overseas mail-in ballots to be returned.

A mandatory recount in the sheriff's race between Kinney, DeLoach and independent Edison Edison that began Thursday was halted after the supervisor of elections acknowledged that hundreds of ballots cast were never added to the vote totals election night.

At the end of Tuesday night, Kinney was 18 votes ahead of DeLoach. Under Florida law, a recount is triggered when results are within one-half percent.

Then, Thursday morning, word came that there were hundreds of ballots that were tabulated but not reported with the election results.

"They had already tabulated in the computer. Our problem was no one went and put them in the server, so then they would be added into all the vote count for that night," Putnam County Supervisor of Elections Charles Overturf said. "So it’s not like the ballots were found. They were here in our office. They were counted. We just failed to make sure they were uploaded into our server."

As the additional votes were added Thursday evening, DeLoach was leading by a razor-thin margin of nine votes in the three-way race. 

The county canvassing board met to go through provisional ballots Thursday night and resumed the process Friday morning. By late afternoon an initial machine recount showed DeLoach was leading by 12 votes. 

Because the results were within a margin of one-quarter percent, a second, manual recount was conducted.

A judge who is on the canvassing board even said this is like waiting for a baby. She asked for everyone's patience, saying they will take as long as they need to make sure the results are perfect. 

"Unfortunately, there's a lot of people out there saying we found the ballots," Overturf said. "Those ballots were right here in this room, in this office. They were counted. ... The only problem we had is, when they were put on the thumb drive to walk 4 feet over to our server to put the results on, we got busy -- somebody did in the group -- and we failed to do that to those 427 ballots. The results were never in, but they were here all the time. They were under lock and key. They were already accounted for. We just failed to get the results into the server that puts it on the screens and everywhere to let everybody know."

Kinney sent a statement Thursday saying, in part that he's "concerned about additional votes being 'found' for Democratic candidate Gator DeLoach after the close of the polls."

"The chain of custody for those ballots and the memory card contained in the ballot machine, from the close of polling at 7 p.m. on November 8, 2016, until this morning, is unclear," Kinney said.

DeLoach said before the recount that he knew it would be an unpredictable race.

"From day one, we knew that nothing was certain and this was an election. As much as you might try, you can't always predict the results," DeLoach said. 

Kinney resigned from the Putnam County Sheriff's Office last year to run for sheriff. DeLoach is a captain with the Sheriff's Office, overseeing administrative services of the department.

The winner replaces Sheriff Jeff Hardy, who did not seek re-election.

Unofficial results after recounts:

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