The late addition of early and absentee votes in East Feliciana Parish on Tuesday night swung the outcome of a 20th Judicial District Court judgeship for Betsy Jones over Sydney Picou Walker, with the victor securing the seat on the bench by just 13 votes.
The two attorneys, both Democrats, were competing for the seat held by Judge George “Hal” Ware Jr., who decided not to seek re-election.
The 20th Judicial District covers East and West Feliciana parishes.
Given the razor-thin margin, Walker said she does not concede defeat and will ask for a recount.
“We will be requesting a recount of the votes and exploring all other options available to us,” Walker said. “This is too important of an election not to do so.”
Jones did not respond to calls seeking comment.
State law specifies that absentee and early voting ballots can be recounted after an election, if a candidate requests and “alleges that there is an error in the counting of the absentee by mail and early voting ballots which would have changed the outcome of the election.”
Both candidates are lawyers who had long practiced in the 20th JDC. Jones, a political newcomer, lives in East Feliciana, while Walker, a former police juror, lives in West Feliciana.
In a list of returns printed in The Advocate’s Wednesday edition, Walker was listed as the winner instead of Jones, besting her opponent by more than 500 votes.
East Feliciana Parish Clerk of Court David Dart said Wednesday that the confusion was due to the reporting method of votes on the Secretary of State’s website. One part of the website listed all precincts as “reporting” when in fact the early and absentee votes in East Feliciana had not yet been tabulated and submitted.
When they were eventually reported by his office, the final tally swung the outcome of the election in favor of Jones.
“The media started reporting the finish before we were through counting the ballots,” Dart said. “We had not counted the early ballots — the machine and paper ballots. They had not been turned in before the media started reporting them.”
Returns on the Secretary of State’s website showing just the Election Day tallies at the 46 precincts indicated that Jones trailed Walker by 528 votes — 5,676 to 5,148.
However, Dart said, after the absentee and early votes were added, the final total resulted in the 13-vote margin of victory for Jones over Walker, 6,299 to 6,286.
Dart said East Feliciana is traditionally one of the first five parishes to report election results, but because of the unusually large volume of early votes, he and members of his staff were sequestered and didn’t finish counting those ballots until after 10:30 Tuesday night, well after all of the precinct votes had been reported.
“It was topsy-turvy because it took some time to count the early votes and to enter the results and I believe they didn’t show up on the Secretary of State’s website until after 11 (p.m.),” Dart said.