It looks like there might be a new Sherriff in town.
With 141 of 521 precincts reporting as of press time at 12:15 a.m., challenger Pat Withrow holds a 57.73 percent to 41.82 percent lead over three-time incumbent Steve Moore in the race for San Joaquin County Sheriff — the winner of which will be immediately elected to a four-year term since there are only two candidatesare vying for the position.
While there are still absentee and provisional ballots that have yet to be counted along with votes cast at polling places on Tuesday, Withrow's lead of 5,000 votes could mark a change and a fresh start for an office that will face its future without the responsibility of operating the San Joaquin County Coroner's Office for the first time.
"We're going to wait to see when all of the votes are counted, but right now it's an insurmountable lead from the experts tells us," a jovial Withrow said as he was leaving his election night party at a restaurant in Stockton. "It's an amazing feeling - how many chances do you get in life to help so many people at one time - families and residents and members of our department?
"I can honestly, truly say that it's an absolute blessing."
And it has been anything but a "normal" race.
A series of controversies dogged Moore's campaign in the lead up to the California primary, and reached a flashpoint in December of last year when both of the county'a forensic pathologists resigned unexpectedly - citing his "interference" with death investigations as aggravating factors.
The fact that one of the two forensic pathologists was world-renowned for his work in discovering chronic traumatic encephalopathy - or CTE - in the brains of deceased former NFL players made the story a national one, and gave Withrow, who was unsuccessful in his attempt to unseat Moore in 2014, an opportunity that may not have been present otherwise.
Eventually the elected duties of Coroner - which is still technically listed as part of the job title on the ballot - were stripped from Moore, who had already come up with a "coroner's inquest" model to remove himself from delicate cases and to create a sense of transparency that didn't exist prior.
Claims of lost evidence that dogged Moore throughout the election have always been flatly denied, as have claims of impropriety by allowing deputies to buy back stripped evidence guns that detractors say were funneled through an intermediary and purchased at significant discounts. Moore was also criticized for his handling of a well site in Linden where human remains dumped by Wesley Shermatine and Loren Herzog - later dubbed "The Speed Freak Killers" - were being excavated, and Withrow capitalized on the criticism by saying that if elected he would reopen the site to look for additional victims that were never discovered or properly attributed to the duo.
Withrow also jumped on an opportunity to reassure voters in Lathrop that the rates that Moore was charging their city for police protection would be reevaluated if he was elected, and he promised to do everything within his power to beat a proposal from neighboring Tracy that if acted on would sever a nearly 30-year relationship between Lathrop and the Sheriff's Office.
With the majority of California voters now voting by mail, it could take several days for all of the ballots to be counted in the race - especially since absentee ballots that are postmarked by the day of the election are still considered valid.
The formal results of the election won't be fully certified until July 5th.
In other San Joaquin County election news, San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn appears to be headed for another term representing Ripon, Escalon and Lodi — as well as rural areas like Farmington, Lockeford, Linden and Thornton — on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
With 32 of 119 precincts reporting, Winn held a 62.89 percent to 36.82 percent lead over challenger Julie Damron-Brown.
California State Assemblyman Heath Flora - who represents Assembly District 12 — also appears headed for reelection. With 165 of 353 precincts partially reporting, Flora held a nearly 10,000 vote lead over Democratic challenger Robert D. Chase. Flora's district includes Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon and Escalon as well as a majority of Stanislaus County.