PALATKA, Fla. – A judge cleared the way for Gator DeLoach to be sworn in Tuesday as the new sheriff of Putnam County.
An attorney for Jon Kinney, the Republican candidate who lost the race for Putnam County sheriff by 16 votes in a three-way election, filed an emergency motion Thursday seeking to block DeLoach, the Democrat candidate, from taking office.
The motion cited the “inexplicable discovery” of an additional 428 ballots that turned the race from an 18-vote victory for Kinney to a 16-vote win for Deloach. The motion also accuses the canvassing board of violating Florida Sunshine Laws and its political code during the recount process.
Clay County Circuit Judge Gary Wilkinson heard arguments Friday morning on the motion to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. He denied the request for an injunction.
“I don't see the public being served by granting this injunction," Wilkinson said.
"The last month and a half has just been a roller coaster of emotions with my family, and I feel like we finally have a small amount of closure," DeLoach said after the hearing.
But the larger legal challenge to the outcome of the election is not over. A hearing on that case is set for Feb. 9.
"We actually have concerns (that) the intent of the voters was not expressed in the final decision," said Daniel Nordby, Kinney's attorney. "We are looking forward to conducting some depositions, gathering our evidence and presenting to the judge in February."
Among Kinney's reasons for questioning the final tally were “irregularities with the registration of voters by the Supervisor of Elections, mathematical errors in the certified election results, and the hundreds of ballots "found" two days after the close of the polls.”
The complaint accuses Putnam County election officials and members of the Putnam County Canvassing Board of misconduct.
"I think things will go in our favor," DeLoach's attorney, Charlie Douglas, said. "We are very confident in the law being in our favor. There is a long line of Florida case law supporting our position."
If the judge does find Kinney's complaint valid, he could throw out the 428 ballots, which would give the race to Kinney; void the election and call on the governor to appoint an interim sheriff until the next general election in 2018; or order a new election.