DeLoach named official winner in Putnam sheriff's race; Kinney to contest results

427 ballots added to tally after Election Day change outcome of race

Gator DeLoach
Gator DeLoach

PALATKA, Fla. – Hours after Democrat Gator DeLoach was officially declared the winner of the Putnam County sheriff's race, a spokesman for defeated Republican Jon Kinney said the results will be challenged.

Certified results posted on the supervisor of elections website Friday night after several overseas mail-in ballots were received showed DeLoach won the three-way race by 16 votes out of 32,717 votes cast. That's a 0.05 percent margin of victory.

After 427 extra ballots were that were cast and counted but not added to the results election night were added and two recounts were conducted, DeLoach was named the unofficial winner last Friday. With the grace period for overseas ballots to arrive, the election canvassing board made the results official Friday night.

Kinney's campaign manager, Tim Campbell, issued a statement thanking supporters and assuring them this isn't over.

Let me reiterate that it is not final and we will be contesting the election."

At the end of  Nov. 8, Kinney was 18 votes ahead of DeLoach. Under Florida law, a recount is triggered when results are within one-half percent.

A machine recount in the race between Kinney, DeLoach and independent Edison Edison that began Nov. 10 was halted after the supervisor of elections acknowledged that hundreds of ballots cast were never added to server that tallied vote totals.

"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," Election Supervisor 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 the evening of Nov. 10, DeLoach was leading by nine votes. The county canvassing board met to go through provisional ballots Thursday night and resumed the process Friday morning. By late afternoon, an initial 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.

"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 during the recount process 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.

Two-term Sheriff Jeff Hardy did not seek re-election.