The fight for a Florida county sheriff’s office heads to court this week as the Republican candidate is set to present evidence that dozens of dead, felon, and otherwise ineligible voters potentially cost him an election decided by 16 ballots.
Republican Putnam County Sherriff hopeful Jonathan Kinney will present his case against the 2016 outcome of his contest against incumbent Homer “Gator” DeLoach (D) by outlining 42 problematic votes that could flip the results of the contentious election. The 29-page complaint intends to make the case that if successful, DeLoach should be ordered to vacate the office, according to The Florida Times-Union.
Kinney claims a total of 32 felons managed to cast ballots before their voting rights were completely restored following a completion of their respective sentences. Little more than half of that segment, 19, apparently voted by mail.
The oft-scoffed upon concept of dead people voting also makes an appearance in the complaint, noting that a total of three ballots were cast. Two of the deceased voters’ ballots reportedly exhibited postmarks following their respective dates of death while a third had no mark at all.
A separate trio of ballots reportedly originated from voters that previously relocated outside of the county and should otherwise have not participated. Another was allegedly cast by a person also voting on the same day in New Jersey.
Two additional mail-in ballots were received by the Putnam County Supervisor of Elections days after the deadline passed. Finally, one ballot was apparently counted from a man previously deemed to be mentally incompetent by the State of Florida.
The Kinney challenge demonstrates why many election officers openly hope for landslide contests. Additional intrigue came shortly after the race’s initial razor-thin 18 vote differential when county officials “found” hundreds of additional votes before mandatory recounts began, according to the local paper. Florida law requires a mandatory recount in the event that a contest is initially determined by half a percentage of the vote tally. Prior to the November 10 re-tabulation, county officers discovered a thumb drive containing 428 mail ballots that were not previously accounted for in the November 8 totals. After their inclusion and others discovered in the post-election reviews, the margin slimmed to 16 votes, according to certified statement released in December 2016.
Kinney told the Jacksonville paper that his court challenge is about more than trying to win an election.
“It is imperative that the public have the trust of their elected officials and their democratic system of government,” Kinney said. “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.”
Putnam County, like many in Florida, is a closely divided jurisdiction where registered Republicans and Democrats are considered. Totaling roughly 48,000 voters, Democrats maintain less than a 2,000-voter edge over Republicans while about four-times as many claim other affiliations.
Should the state circuit court not find any conspiracy to commit voter fraud by any combination of those allegedly casting illegal ballots, the case is indicative of what many election integrity advocates have warned against where voter roll maintenance is concerned. Florida law and corresponding federal standards require that dead, felon, and otherwise ineligible voters be processed for removal at regular intervals in the very least. Numerous lawsuits have successfully argued that even the faintest relaxation of standards can inspire irregularities and fraud, especially in localized contests.
The 42 registered voters flagged represent roughly 0.08 percent of Putnam County’s entire roll, yet could alone reverse an election to fill the highest office in the jurisdiction. Despite this, some left-of-center organizations have lobbied courts to limit voter roll maintenance efforts, according to election law experts.
“It is pretty clear that such fraud may have affected the outcome of this election, and it also shows how important it is for states to improve the accuracy and reliability of their voter rolls,” Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Hans von Spakovsky told Breitbart. “The League of Women Voters and other groups that have gone to court to prevent states from cleaning up their voter rolls are doing a real disservice to the American public.”
The challenge of pushing local governments to quickly update or remove outdated records is not unique to Florida. Groups like the American Civil Rights Union and the Public Interest Legal Foundation are currently engaged with Philadelphia to change course after the City of Brotherly Love admitted it does not keep track of felon statuses for voters at all – relying on an honor system that they not vote.
The Putnam County court hearing is slated for Wednesday in Palatka, Florida. Should Jonathan Kinney’s legal challenge prevail, he will not be immediately declared the victor of the contest. A special election would be held at a later date.