Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel was certified Wednesday as the winner of last week's election after his opponent stopped a hand recount of ballots six hours into the first day.
A full recount of the ballots could have taken weeks, Oklahoma County Election Board Secretary Doug Sanderson predicted.
The recount began Wednesday after an “extremely conservative” supporter of Darrell Sorrels, the Republican challenger for sheriff, put up $25,800 to pay for it. Whetsel's campaign manager called the payment by Enterprise Investments Inc. an illegal campaign contribution to Sorrels.
Whetsel, a Democrat, will begin his fifth term in office Jan. 1.
After counting 14 of the county's 256 precincts, Sorrels had closed the almost 75,000-vote gap between himself and Whetsel by only one vote. The final election tally was 164,055 for Whetsel and 89,511 for Sorrels.
Sorrels called for a manual recount of all ballots cast in the Nov. 6 election because he wanted to “determine the integrity of the process,” his attorney, Stephen Jones, said.
Jones said Sorrels was concerned because the sheriff is responsible for ballot security. Jones also said Sorrels was concerned because he did not do as well as other Republicans in the election.
“I was satisfied as to the integrity of the process, as was Mr. Sorrels, so at that point there was no point to continue,” Jones said about stopping the recount. “I can't say that I was expecting a difference, but sometimes you have to go through the process to validate the results reached.”
Despite the outcome, Pat Hall, Whetsel's campaign manager, is objecting to the recount. Hall said the $25,800 deposit filed to trigger the recount was illegal.
The check was remitted to the election board Friday by Enterprise Investments Inc. Located in a nondescript building at 5235 N Lincoln in Oklahoma City, Enterprise Investments is a holding company for Old Surety Life Insurance.
Dale Phillips is listed as a president at Old Surety and an owner of Enterprise Investments.
He is a former delegate for Ron Paul. He wore a T-shirt supporting the conservative presidential candidate at a health care rally at the Capitol in July.
Phillips, 70, described himself as an “extremely conservative” Christian business owner in a profile for The Oklahoman in 2010.
Records indicate Phillips donated $5,000, the maximum allowed, to the Sorrels campaign. Phillips declined to speak with a reporter who visited his office Wednesday.
“Our belief is that the recount is an extension of the campaign, and if it's an extension of the campaign then the same limitations apply,” Hall said.
State law prohibits corporations from contributing to political campaigns, and Hall said he will ask the Oklahoma Ethics Commission to settle the question.
Marilyn Hughes, the commission's executive director, said a corporate contribution to a recount effort is not against the law because the money was not used to sway an election.
“But she just made a quick, arbitrary decision and didn't have all the facts,” Hall said. “The election board may not have known, but they should not have accepted the money and there shouldn't have been a recount today.”
Deposit funds not spent to support the recount — including the payment of counters, deputies and board members — will be returned to Sorrels, said Sanderson, the election board secretary.
He estimated Wednesday's effort cost about $2,500.
Nolan Clay, staff writer