When the votes were tallied from Election Day for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s race, incumbent John Whetsel had won reelection to a fifth term. Whetsel had a narrow 75,000-vote lead over his challenger Darrell Sorrels. Okay, 75,000 votes is not usually considered narrow. Sorrels only had 35% of the vote, but that was enough to entice him to call for a recount.
In what has to rank as one of the strangest demands for a recount in American electoral history, Sorrels actually felt that there was enough widespread fraud that one-in-six ballots could have been miscounted, thus, giving him victory among the 250,000 votes cast.
Normally, when candidates face a mountain of a landslide, they accept that they were roundly trounced and try to find the path to obscurity. That is not so with Sorrels.
Sorrels felt that there was fraud on a massive scale going on down at the Oklahoma County Election Board. He said that media outlets initially reported that he led by 10% on election night. The results then went back to zero and a couple of hours later Whetsel had the lead. That does sound suspicious, except that Sorrels would have a lot better case if he could prove the irregularities happened that way at the Election Board without a good explanation. Sorrels based his recount demand on how the media reported the race not on where the votes were counted. The local television outlets are not the best place to look for voter fraud.
Sorrels’ campaign raised concerns that the election computers were hacked or that something else happened at the sheriff’s department because they are responsible for ballot security.
When Whetsel was told that Sorrels was demanding a recount, he referred to it as “harassment” and “total lunacy.”
“I chose to have a recount for accountability,” Sorrels explained as his reason.
That’s right. When a candidate loses by 75,000 votes, someone has to be accountable. It is too simple to think that the voters might have gathered that Sorrels was missing a couple of screws in the commonsense department so he didn’t deserve their votes.
Imagine if Sorrels had been elected. Here’s a guy who looks at a 75,000-vote deficit and sees something nefarious. He wants to bring those same deductive skills to law enforcement. I think if you were on Sorrels’ radar for committing a crime, then it would be difficult to persuade him otherwise.
A full recount in the sheriff’s race would cost $25,800. The Sorrels campaign was short on cash, so a wealthy donor put the money up from his business. That raised more doubts about Sorrels.
$5,000 is the maximum that can be donated to a campaign in Oklahoma. Whetsel considered going to court to halt the recount as the result of an illegal donation. The Whetsel campaign decided not to do that. There wasn’t anything to fear from a recount so there wasn’t much need for the Whetsel campaign to spend its own money to keep Sorrels from looking like a fool.
The recount began, but Sorrels decided to halt the multi-day recount after just one day and 5% of the votes recounted. The result ended with Sorrels gaining one vote. The final tally was 164,055 for Whetsel and 89,511 for Sorrels.
Sometimes, it is just hard for a candidate to accept when he has been thoroughly beaten.