The runner-up in the November 2016 election for Putnam County’s sheriff and his attorney argued before a judge Wednesday that winner Gator DeLoach’s slim margin of victory — paired with the possibility of voter fraud — cast new doubts on race’s results.
Although Jon Kinney was originally projected to win, DeLoach was eventually declared the winner by 16 votes after a USB drive containing 428 uncounted ballots was discovered, prompting a recount.
Daniel Nordby, Kinney’s attorney, told Fourth Circuit Court Judge Gary L. Wilkinson that further investigation into the case led to the discovery that at least 42 people voted illegally.
“The number of illegal votes received was sufficient enough to change or place in doubt the results of the election,” Nordby said in his opening statements Wednesday’s proceedings, which were part of Kinney’s civil-case challenge to DeLoach’s victory.
The votes, Nordby said, came from convicted felons, who are prohibited from voting in Florida. There were also three mail-in ballots from voters deceased before the postage date, two after the deadline to vote and one from a voter ruled mentally incompetent, he said.
The defendants — DeLoach and the entity responsible for the recount, the Putnam County Canvassing Board — argued that evidence showed each of the 42 individuals were properly registered to vote in Florida at the time of the election. Although they were found to possibly be ineligible after Election Day, no one challenged their eligibility before it.
Ronald A. Labasky, the attorney representing the canvassing board, said that of the 33,488 people who voted in the election, 32,717 voted in the sheriff’s race. Attorney Charles Douglas Jr., who represented DeLoach, said there isn’t a way to tell whether any or all of the 42 were a part of the remaining 771 who didn’t vote for sheriff.
Putnam County Supervisor of Elections Charles Overturf III, who was called as a witness, explained that it is the duty of state elections officials to tell him if voters are ineligible.
After being alerted of such cases, there’s a due-process framework in place to determine whether the voter should, in fact, be removed from the statewide registration system, Overturf said.
In his closing arguments, Nordby reiterated his point of at least 42 ballots being cast illegally.
“With more than 40, that number is sufficient to at least place in doubt the result of the election,” the attorney said. “We believe we’ve met that burden by coming forward with evidence un-rebutted from DeLoach’s side.”
Labasky said that with the incident taking place in November 2016, the trial was simply “looking out the rearview mirror at things that existed at that time but no one knew about.”
In his closing statements for DeLoach, Douglas said that if the court does indeed find enough evidence to overturn his client’s win, the seat shouldn’t sit vacant, because Norby is set to become an attorney for Gov. Rick Scott, who would then appoint the person to fill the vacancy.
After Wilkinson dismissed the two parties for the day, Kinney said he was confident the judge would “make the best decision” he could.
DeLoach, meanwhile, said his counsel showed in court that it was uncertain if the ineligible voters even participated in electing him as sheriff.
“I don’t like it that convicted felons vote any more than the next person,” he said. “But the reality is that, as you heard in court today, we don’t know if those folks voted in the sheriff race.”
The next hearing in the case will take place April 21.