The Dead Help Elect Florida Sheriff Apr 9, 2017 17:55:58 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Apr 9, 2017 17:55:58 GMT -5
The Dead Help Elect Florida Sheriff
PALATKA, Fla. – As many as 42 felons, non-residents, ineligible voters, and even dead people cast illegal ballots for the Democratic candidate in a Putnam County sheriff’s race last fall that was decided by just 16 votes. At a trial next week, Judge Gary Wilkinson of the Circuit Court of Clay County will decide if the number of purportedly invalid ballots is sufficient to undermine the legitimacy of the county sheriff’s race.
The trial, scheduled to begin Wednesday morning (April 12), will resolve an election challenge of the outcome of the race and put to rest months of legal back-and-forth over the win by Sheriff Homer “Gator” DeLoach. The numbers are contained in 29 pages of court documents filed this week as part of a pretrial agreement between attorneys representing DeLoach, his opponent Jonathan Kinney and the county canvassing board.
DeLoach and his attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday. Kinney’s attorneys are seeking DeLoach’s removal from office if they prevail at trial. Meanwhile, DeLoach’s attorneys argue there’s not enough proof that the ballots influenced the results. They say if Wilkinson overturns their client’s victory, then a special election is required.
According to the agreement, Kinney’s attorneys will present evidence at trial demonstrating that 32 felons whose voting rights had not been restored cast ballots. Of those, 19 voted by mail. Additionally, it is alleged ballots were cast by mail for three people who died in October. Two of these ballots were postmarked two days after the voters died. A third had no postmark. Among the other ineligible ballots were three cast by people who were no longer county residents. According to the court filings, two other ballots were received after the legal deadline for submission. Another was cast by a man who also voted in New Jersey, and a fourth was from a man deemed mentally incompetent by the court system.
The trial marks the final chapter of a saga that began Nov. 8, when the race was too close to call. Unofficial returns showed Kinney, a Republican, ahead with 48.51 percent of the vote compared to 48.46 percent for DeLoach, a Democrat – a difference of 18 votes. The narrow margin meant an automated recount, which is triggered when unofficial returns have a candidate for office winning or losing by 0.5 percent or less of the ballots cast.
Before the Nov. 10 recount, Supervisor of Elections Charles Overturf announced an audit discovered the number of vote-by-mail ballots tabulated did not match the number of those reported. The canvassing board found 428 outstanding vote-by-mail ballots that were scanned and added to a thumb drive, but not properly uploaded to the server on election night. Once those ballots were included, a second set of unofficial returns showed DeLoach ahead by 0.25 or less of a percent of the vote. Because the results were still so close, a manual recount was ordered for over- and under-votes. Then the canvassing board also added four additional votes cast by mail from citizens living overseas. The canvassing board certified results to the state Nov. 18 indicating DeLoach, with 48.5 percent of the vote, had edged out Kinney’s 48.45 percent. Only 16 votes separated the two, with 31,722 ballots cast.
On Nov. 28, Kinney’s attorneys sued and sought to have the results thrown out. Their complaint cited invalid votes as well as misconduct on the part of canvassing board members, including allegations of Sunshine Law violations and mishandled ballots. “I understand that the public wants to know why I filed this election contest,” Kinney said in a statement provided by his attorney. “It is imperative that the public have the trust of their elected officials and their democratic system of government. To that end, I believe I am obliged to contest this election when the results of the sheriff’s election were certified on the basis of votes from convicted felons.”
At an emergency hearing Dec. 30, Kinney’s attorneys called for Wilkinson to block DeLoach’s taking office as scheduled Jan. 3. Wilkinson denied the motion and allowed DeLoach to assume command.
As part of the pretrial agreement, Kinney’s attorneys agreed not to challenge the election outcome based on the purported misconduct, instead relying on whether the suspect ballots they identified were enough to make a difference.
Wilkinson, who is based in Clay County, is handling the case to avoid a possible conflict of interest. A Putnam County judge is a member of the canvassing board.
Source: Garrett Pelican, The Florida Times-Union, April 7, 2017.