by The Florida Times-Union’s Garrett Pelican
November 28, 2016
The Republican candidate for Putnam County sheriff is challenging the outcome of the race that saw the lead ostensibly change hands following the release of unofficial returns on election night.
In a complaint filed Monday afternoon, attorneys for Jonathan Kinney called for the court to nullify certified results that declared Kinney’s opponent, Democrat Gator DeLoach III, the winner on the grounds that the county canvassing board did not follow the rules while counting votes.
Among the allegations detailed in the complaint, Kinney’s attorneys say the canvassing board mishandled ballots, included ineligible ballots cast by out-of-state voters and breached public meetings laws by deliberating outside of publicly noticed meetings.
“What we are questioning is the conduct of the canvassing board and the methodology that they used to certify the results,” said attorney Zachery Keller, who represents Kinney.
Elections Supervisor Charles Overturf, who’s named in the complaint, said he had not yet received a copy of the complaint and declined to comment until he had a chance to review it.
DeLoach could not be reached for comment Monday.
The race has come under scrutiny since Nov. 8 when unofficial returns showed Kinney ahead with 48.51 percent of the vote compared to 48.46 percent for DeLoach — a difference of 18 votes.
Overturf ordered an automated recount, which is required whenever unofficial returns have a candidate for office winning or losing by 0.5 percent or less of the total ballots cast.
Before the recount began Nov. 10, Overturf disclosed an audit found about 428 ballots were counted but not reported among election night returns. The result was an apparent reversal that showed DeLoach clutching to a narrow lead of nine votes.
“You have to question the results when two days after the election there are 428 ballots that are found and the found ballots change the results of the election,” Keller said.
With 0.25 percent or less than the total votes cast separating DeLoach and Kinney, a manual recount of under and over votes took place Nov. 11. A week later the board certified results that showed DeLoach with 48.5 percent leading Kinney’s 48.45 percent — a difference of 16 votes.
Keller also cast doubts about whether canvassing board members followed the Sunshine Law during recesses of board meetings amid the recounts. On at least one occasion, the complaint says, board members deliberated in a “back conference room” away from public view.
“Rather than conducting all of the business in front of the public, they were meeting and counting and tabulating in the back conference room,” Keller said.
It’s not clear what the board members were discussing. The complaint doesn’t specify.
Because of that ambiguity, it’s difficult to say if board members skirted public laws, said Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. Petersen reviewed the complaint at the Times-Union’s request.
“Members of the canvassing board are allowed to discuss anything other than the election — in other words, a purely social conversation among and between board members is not a violation of law,” she said. [READ MORE]