138 Votes

Sometimes it’s clear your work makes a difference.

This week it wasn’t my work, it was the work of my colleague Daymond Steer, that likely unseated the incumbent sheriff. Last night was the primary. The sheriff, who had served two terms, was facing a challenge from a man who had run for the office and lost several times before. This time, however, the newspaper took the time to dig into several stories that my have cost the sheriff his office.

First was a story about a lieutenant who quit after an incident where the sheriff didn’t detain someone U.S. Marshalls wanted to arrest. There are questions about what exactly happened and how it all played out, but the stories didn’t look very good for the sheriff. Then there was a story about how a plaintiff in a civil case was asking a judge to find the sheriff in contempt of court. Again, it didn’t look good for the sheriff. Then there were the opinions of the various police chiefs in the area — not one supported the incumbent. Working with him was described as “a nightmare.” All of this made it into the paper, much of it on the front page, in the weeks leading up to the election.

And then the sheriff lost the primary by 138 votes. That is with thousands of people voting. We worked hard to get accurate stories out to the public before voting day, and it looks like that coverage may have affected people’s choices at the polls. We didn’t uncover any blatant corruption, but clearly people had questions about the sheriff’s behavior. It was clear in the numbers that readers in our coverage area were less inclined to support him (although that may not be a causal relationship — his challenger is a local). I have to image those stories made a difference, and when the margin is 138 votes it doesn’t take much.

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