DECATUR — Any change to the results of the close Macon County sheriff's race will come through the court system, as County Clerk Josh Tanner said Wednesday that he does not have the authority to undo the previously certified outcome.
The announcement comes just over a week since the county Republican Party sent a letter to the clerk’s office asking Tanner, as the local election authority, to reverse the results of the Nov. 6 midterm election that saw Democrat Tony Brown defeat Republican Jim Root by a single vote, 19,655 to 19,654.
The basis for the Republicans’ argument was that two uncounted ballots, both for Root, were discovered after Election Day and not included when mail-in and provisional ballots were counted on Nov. 20. Republicans argued that if the two ballots had been counted by former County Clerk Steve Bean, Root would have been declared the winner and would have started his term as sheriff on Dec. 1 rather than Brown.
County Democrats have since said they “strongly disagree” that there are two valid, uncounted ballots that could change the result.
Root appeared to be the winner with a 99-vote advantage after Election Day, but Brown rose to the top once the additional ballots were counted Nov. 20. Root subsequently requested a nonbinding discovery recount, which allows candidates to gather evidence so they can petition for a court to order a full recount. The cost of the recount will be covered by Root.
An official from the Illinois State Board of Election previously said state’s election code allows local election authorities to correct “obvious discrepancies” before they certify their vote and send it to the state. But that only applies before the state board certifies the election results, which occurred on Nov. 27, and anything afterward requires a court order to change.
Tanner, a Republican, is new to the office this month, having won the November election after Bean, a Democrat, opted not to run again.
Following the county Republicans' request that Tanner reverse the election result, Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott asked the attorney general’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to advise on the matter.
Tanner said Wednesday that an official from the attorney general's office contacted him Friday to say he lacked the authority to change the outcome. He said they did not provide him with any legal arguments in writing, but said over the phone they could not find any law or precedent that would allow the clerk to reverse the results.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General's Office confirmed the office contacted Tanner regarding the matter but declined further comment.
With how the petition for a special prosecutor was worded, Scott said the attorney general's office could continue to offer assistance in other legal matters involving the race.
Root has said he plans to seek a full recount, which would require a civil case be filed in Macon County Circuit Court. State officials have said he has until Dec. 27, or 30 days after the state certified the election results, to do so.
Before that occurs, Root and his team have request a continuation of the discovery recount, which was "suspended" on Nov. 30. Tanner said that will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 17, and should last until lunchtime.