JOLIET – It was a year-and-a-half ago when Mike Kelley declared his intention to become Will County sheriff.
“Until [Monday] night,I hadn’t lost sleep over it, but I was awake. It was rough,” he said Tuesday.
Rough and close. The Democrat edged out Republican opponent Ken Kaupas by .002 percent of the vote, according to the final vote tally done Tuesday by the Will County Clerk’s Office.
“I’m feeling good now,” Kelley said after the final totals came in Tuesday.
It wasn’t just the votes in the Will County sheriff’s race being counted Tuesday, but that contest was the focus of the dozens of Democrats and Republicans watching the poll watchers and election judges at the Will County Building.
The process of counting 1,391 provisional ballots and 1,674 absentee ballots began at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Kaupas and Kelley were both already in attendance, each wearing dark suits with light blue shirts. Kaupas opted for a dark blue tie, Kelley for a lighter blue.
“It was a hard-fought race,” Kaupas said while Kelley shook his hand and nodded in agreement as the counts began.
Kelley edged Kaupas out by 471 votes, with 190,783 ballots cast in the race. Kaupas was ahead of Kelley by 170 votes at the end of election night Nov. 4.
Kelley has been a sheriff’s deputy for 26 years. His most recent duties have been as a sergeant in investigations. He is a lifelong resident of Lockport.
Kelley plans to change patrol shifts from eight hours to 10 or 12. He believes the overlap during busier times is a more effective use of manpower.
Kelley also has said he will arrange to bring legal arrangements for foreclosure sales under the state’s attorney’s office. He believes that move will save money to hire more correctional deputies at the county jail, reducing overtime there.
“This [victory] was from the support I got within the department. That was what made the difference,” Kelley said. “Men and women who are in law enforcement going door-to-door for me. The hours they put in was overwhelming.”
Kelley’s campaign was widely supported by other local Democrats. Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil served as his campaign chairman.
“I’ve known Mike and his family my entire life. The character that he has [is why] I was happy to help when he asked,” O’Neil said.
Kelley said having only two weeks to prepare to start his administration instead of knowing on election night will make things “twice as difficult to start.” He takes office Dec. 1.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. My guys and I will be sitting down with the sheriff and his guys very soon to make sure this transition goes as smooth as possible,” Kelley said.
Ken Kaupas, a 26-year state police veteran, is a deputy chief for the sheriff’s office. Kelley will replace Paul Kaupas, Ken’s second cousin, who has been sheriff for 12 years.
“I think we ran a very good campaign and a clean campaign,” Ken Kaupas said.
“Going into today, the provisional ballots were my worry, from what the numbers were saying, and that was what got me,” he said.
Kaupas and Kelley had a brief conversation after the result that both men described as “cordial.”
“There’s no bad blood between us,” Kelley said.
“I wish the sheriff-elect the best of luck,” Kaupas said.
But Kaupas said he will not remain with the sheriff’s office once Kelley takes over.
“Next I’m going to make up for some lost time with my family,” he said.
Voter turnout in Will County was a little more than 50 percent for the election, with 195,530 ballots cast for 388,057 registered voters.
Of the 1,391 provisional ballots, more than 720 were submitted by voters who came in to register and vote on Election Day and the day before.
While Kelley’s margin was narrow, County Clerk Nancy Schultz-Voots said the difference of more than 400 votes makes it unlikely ballots will be reviewed for a potential recount.