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Judge denies challenge, affirms Gator DeLoach as Putnam County sheriff

Defeated challenger Jon Kinney filed legal challenge to sheriff's race last fall

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PALATKA, Fla. – A challenge filed last fall by a defeated candidate in the Putnam County Sheriff's race has been denied by a judge, officially confirming the results of the November 2016 election that made Gator DeLoach the new sheriff.

Challenger Jon Kinney, who lost the election by 16 votes to DeLoach, filed a suit claiming that 42 votes were fraudulently cast: 32 votes by convicted felons who have not had their voting rights restored, three ballots from people listed as deceased, three ballots from people who are not residents of Putnam County, two ballots received after Election Day, one ballot from a Putnam County resident who also voted in New Jersey and one from a person ruled mentally incompetent.

DOCUMENT: Judge denies sheriff's race challenge

Clay County Circuit Judge Gary Wilkinson ruled that of the 32 convicted felon voters, 10 have been removed from the rolls. The status of the remaining voters is still being determined. Wilkinson noted that their eligibility to vote was not questioned before the election, and it's unknown who they voted for, or even if they cast a ballot in the sheriff's race, so they weren't illegal votes.

The three ballots cast by people listed as deceased were cast and sent in before the voters died, so the votes were legal.

Kinney's assertion that three ballots were cast by people who were not residents of Putnam County
The three who lived outside Putnam County were found to be doing so temporarily, and intend to return to Putnam County, so those weren't illegal votes.

For the one who also voted in New Jersey, there's no way to know which election was voted in first, and the same rationale applies as the convicted felons: that is, it's unknown who they voted for, or if they voted in the sheriff's race, so that's not an illegal vote.

On the voter who was said to be incapacitated, eligibility was not questioned beforehand, so the ballot was not illegal.

The voters whose ballots were stamped at 7:02 p.m. and 7:06 p.m., after the polls closed, were in line at the Supervisor of Elections Office at 7 p.m. and were allowed to vote, per the SOE's custom, so those votes were not illegal.

Wilkinson ruled Kinney had not met the burden of proof that the number of illegal votes had the potential to change the outcome of the race.

Initial elections results showed Kinney with an 18-vote lead over DeLoach. But during a recount, 428 additional ballots were found that had not been entered into the voting machines. When the recount was done, DeLoach was ahead by 16 votes. He was sworn into office in January.

DeLoach said Friday that he’s grateful and relieved by the judge’s ruling, which he described as “thoughtful and deliberate.”

DeLoach said it's felt “like an eternity” since the trial last month, and he’s tried not to think about it, and just do his best serving the people of Putnam County.

News4Jax has not heard back from Jon Kinney or his lawyer regarding a comment on the judge's ruling.