DECATUR — Election officials determined Tuesday that a single ballot decided who will become the next Macon County sheriff, giving Tony Brown, the Democrat, a one-vote victory over GOP candidate Jim Root. The decision is a change two weeks after Election Day, when ballots put Root at a 99-vote advantage.
"This is proof positive that every vote counts," said Brown, who like Root is a lieutenant in the department.
The Macon County Clerk's Office on Tuesday evening certified final results that included mail-in and provision ballots and put the final tally with Brown at 19,655 and Root at 19,654
Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Root said he was out of the area and waiting for more information from his team in Decatur before deciding whether to seek a recount.
Members from both candidate's campaigns, as well as the chairmen of the Macon County Democratic and Republican parties, crowded inside County Clerk Steve Bean's office on Tuesday as he went through the hundreds of ballots that were not counted on election night. He listed the names on each ballot and checked the postmarks and validity of each ballot.
The final result from the mail-in and provisional ballots were 191 votes for Brown and 91 votes for Root.
Bean could recall only one other similar instance in his 28 years supervising county elections. In that case, the mayor of Argenta won by just one vote, but he said that was a much smaller election.
"I’ve never had anything this close before," Bean said.
Usually, the ballots counted later do not change the outcome.
Root and Brown were running for the position held by Sheriff Howard Buffett, who was appointed to the position by retiring Macon County Sheriff Tom Schneider, who resigned in September 2017 after serving in the position since 2008.
Under state rules, candidates who come within 5 percent of one another can request a discovery recount within five days after the last day for the Illinois State Board of Elections to canvass the results of an election, which is Nov. 27.
A discovery recount doesn't alter the results of an election, but entitles a candidate who loses narrowly to review ballots and other documentation from a quarter of precincts. The candidate may use the information in a legal challenge to the election results.
With candidates, supporters and some attorneys present, Macon Co. Clerk Steve Bean goes through the provision and mail-in ballots from the Nov. 6 election. Most notable results will be in sheriff’s race, where GOP candidate Jim Root is up 99 votes on Dem. Tony Brown. pic.twitter.com/VwGoVW69uq— Ryan Voyles (@RVVoyles) November 20, 2018
Brown has been in the sheriff's office since 1990; Root started there in 1996. They are both Decatur natives and graduates of the Eisenhower High School class of 1986. Brown defeated Lt. Jon Butts for the Democratic nomination in the March 21 primary election. Root ran unopposed.
Root is a good friend, Brown said. "That won’t change. We’re all going to do what we have to do to continue to serve this community and make this department, as well as this community, better."
Brown said the sheriff's office has "a lot of healing to do" after the election.
"It doesn’t matter whose side you took... we’re all family, and we all have a community to serve to the best of our ability," he said.
Describing himself as a person of strong faith, Brown said everything happens for a reason.
"I just believe this was a message to send, a testimony that every vote counts. You cannot take anything for granted, and that’s what this is," he said. "That’s all I can think about; people need to make sure that their voices are heard.
"All it takes is one, and that’s exactly what happened today."