Republican challenger Deb Burchett handily defeated 30-year incumbent Democratic Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly on Tuesday night.
Burchett will be the first female sheriff of Clark County, according to final, unofficial results from the Clark County Board of Elections.
“I am just thrilled,” Burchett said. “I think the people of Springfield know we need a change and I believe they know I will make that happen. We will have a better community.”
Kelly didn’t return requests for comment Tuesday night.
Burchett ran for office following a 34-year law enforcement career, including 29 as a Clark County deputy. She was the first female sergeant in charge of the investigation division. She most recently has worked as a police officer in South Vienna.
MORE INFORMATION: Get full local election results here
Early election results began in Kelly’s favor, with absentee ballots cast showing Kelly with a lead. However, as the night went along, Burchett caught up to the longtime sheriff and eventually overtook him.
Burchett said she attributes the victory to her ground game. She said she knocked on many doors and spoke face-to-face with voters who told her they had concerns.
“I went out there and went to the public and let the public know what changes I plan to make,” she said.
She said previously that one of her main goals as sheriff will be to fight the heroin epidemic by working with lawmakers to receive as many grants as possible. She also said she will create an open-door policy so that her deputies will feel safe to come to her with concerns.
The Clark County sheriff is in charge of nearly 200 county employees who are represented by four unions. Since 2008, the salary of the sheriff has been set at $84,523.
The sheriff commands deputies, dispatchers in the Clark County Emergency Dispatch Center, medical staff at the Clark County Jail and court bailiffs.
The position oversees a nearly $15 million general-fund budget — the largest general fund budget in the county. The office is also in charge of more than $1.5 million in separate budgets for police, fire and EMS dispatching in eight townships across the county, child support services and solid waste services
The election was hotly contested throughout the span of the race, including once at a candidate’s forum where Burchett accused Kelly of costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars by not following union contracts.
Kelly flatly denied the claim and called it a “total, fabricated lie.”
Both candidates also faced tough social media criticism and accusations regarding their careers and personal lives.