GONZALES — Kenny Matassa, the presumptive winner of a tight election for Ascension Parish president, on Monday called his campaign an uphill climb for funding and backers after his opponents got a much earlier start than him but said he felt relief when he learned he had won Saturday night.
Matassa, who started his campaign in February, said he got the tough fight he expected in the runoff from a formidable opponent who had been campaigning for more than two years.
“Everybody knew it was going to be close,” Matassa said in an interview at his Gonzales campaign headquarters.
Matassa beat businessman Clint Cointment by 115 votes Saturday, according to complete but unofficial returns.
Due to that close margin, Cointment has not conceded and said he won’t until the vote count is verified, a process that starts 8 a.m. Tuesday when voting machines are opened at the Secretary of State’s warehouse in Gonzales.
“I owe it to my supporters to have the official results. A lot of people put their time in, not just me but my supporters, and I owe that much to them,” Cointment said Monday.
With 30,041 total votes cast in the parish president’s race, Matassa’s 115-vote margin of victory meant the men were tied on a percentage basis, 50-50.
Turnout was 41.4 percent.
Matassa, a five-term Gonzales city councilman and longtime parish administrator, said he has been focused on the election and not yet made decisions about his transition team or top administrative officials.
But he said one of the first things he plans to do after he takes office in January is to meet with state highway officials about synchronizing traffic lights on La. 44 and Airline Highway. He said he has also met with U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, about a major transportation funding bill being debated in Congress, though Matassa declined to provide specifics.
Improving fast-growing Ascension’s infrastructure was a major theme in the race. Matassa pointed to his experience in parish and city government as an indication of his ability to get things done. Cointment ran as a change candidate and accused Matassa of being part of the same “good ol’ boy” network that had not accomplished enough.
Matassa said voters who didn’t support him should follow his track record over the next four years and said that, as parish president, he will work with everyone.
“It’s just you got to get together and work for the good of the parish. It’s all about the people who live here,” he said.
When the sealed voting machines are opened Tuesday morning, the tallies of all votes cast that were recorded by poll commissioners on election night will be checked against separate counts stored in the electronic machines.
Ascension Parish Clerk of Court Bridget Hanna said her office received no complaints about election day irregularities. She said that since the parish began using Dominion’s AVC Advantage machine about 10 years ago, she can’t recall a time when vote tallies changed in the post-election check.
Meg Casper, Secretary of State spokeswoman, also said machine counts historically have not changed with the latest electronic machines but vote totals have seen changes with mail-in ballots.
To raise an issue with mail-in ballots, a candidate must challenge the election and get a court order or ask the clerk of court for a recount because of the number of mail-in ballots in question, Casper said.
According to the Secretary of State, 509 mail-in ballots were counted for Saturday’s elections in Ascension, though it’s not clear how many of those ballots included votes for the president’s race.
Hanna said about 20 to 25 additional mail-in ballots were thrown out and not counted. Though she didn’t have a precise number Monday, she said the amount was not enough to change the outcome of the parish president’s race.
Hanna said mail-in ballots are usually thrown out when voters do not follow procedures for the signed affidavit accompanying the ballot. The affidavits are intended to ensure voters are who they say they are.
Mail-in ballots that are counted are electronically scanned. Those thrown out are not even opened, Hanna said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.