GONZALES — Businessman and surveyor Clint Cointment conceded his bid to be Ascension Parish’s next president Tuesday after a check of voting machines showed no changes in the results from Saturday night that left him 115 votes short of his goal.
The result means Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa will become Ascension’s next parish president.
“Now that the votes are official, I want to congratulate Kenny Matassa on a tremendous campaign, and I want to thank my supporters. I owe them this (a check of the votes) to make sure that the votes were official,” Cointment said as the voting machines were checked Tuesday morning.
“But now that they’re in, it’s time to come together as a parish, and it’s time to heal, and it’s time to move forward.”
Cointment noted that he has been personal friends with the Matassa family for years and grew up with Kenny Matassa’s son, banker Kendall Matassa.
In a sign of Cointment’s call to come together, he embraced Matassa supporter and retired parish employee Sitman “Red” Loupe moments before speaking with reporters Tuesday morning and on Tuesday afternoon posed with Matassa for a joint photo opportunity in front of the new parish government complex in Gonzales where both men reiterated calls to unify the parish.
“I have no agenda other than to move this parish forward,” Matassa said.
Though tallies recorded by the 192 election machines used in Saturday’s race remained the same Tuesday, two mail-in ballots from military personnel arrived Monday morning and both were for Matassa. Clerk of Court Bridget Hanna said the ballots were postmarked Nov. 16.
With the two additional votes, the final tally in the race is 15,080 for Matassa and 14,963 for Cointment, or 50.19 percent for Matassa, 49.81 percent for Cointment.
Cointment won precincts across a broad swath of northern and far eastern Ascension’s strongly conservative belt, including Dutchtown, Prairieville, Galvez, Duplessis, St. Amant, Burnside and the unincorporated outskirts of Gonzales, election results show.
Cointment won nearly twice as many precincts as Matassa, but Matassa won the parish’s three cities — Gonzales, Sorrento and Donaldsonville — and almost every rural precinct south of Dutchtown and west of Interstate 10, including Geismar, Darrow, Modeste and Lemannville.
In the battleground area of Burnside and Pelican Point, Cointment narrowly beat Matassa, 474 votes to 435 votes, a 39-vote margin.
Matassa had his election night party at the Pelican Point clubhouse, and his campaign believed he had enough support in the golf course community south of I-10 to win it, but the large precinct also includes rural areas outside Pelican Point.
Some of those parish residents are core backers and contributors to Cointment, who fought the future Conway Plantation project when it was before the Gonzales City Council earlier this year. Matassa supported the project.
A close look at precinct-level results also shows that while Cointment ran strong in Prairieville and other areas he won, Matassa often ran stronger in the precincts he won.
Both men fought a lackluster turnout Saturday. But three rural, majority-black and Democratic areas, Darrow, Lemannville and Modeste, had the highest turnout of any precincts in the parish, 45 percent or greater, and all three strongly supported Matassa.
Matassa won the entire west bank, and in every precinct except one, he took 81 percent of the vote or greater on that side of the Mississippi River. In two precincts, Matassa won with 90 percent.
But even with Matassa’s strong showing, it was Cointment who won election day balloting by 615 votes. Only Matassa’s lead in early voting, by 732 votes, gave him enough buffer to win the overall race by 117 votes.
Pollster John Couvillon said Cointment ran slightly better than U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who lost Ascension Parish to Democratic Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, but it was not enough.
Couvillon suggested Matassa’s switch last year to the Republican Party may have been critical in doing well enough in Prairieville to hold back Cointment and prevent Republican block voting.
He noted Cointment won 58 percent of the vote in House District 59, one point better than Vitter ran in the gubernatorial runoff. The House district roughly corresponds with Prairieville.
“If Matassa had been a Democrat, I seriously doubt Matassa would have gotten 42 percent of the vote in Prairieville,”said Couvillon, who said he did not work for any political campaigns in Ascension Parish during this election cycle.
Matassa was a longtime Democrat who made two party switches last year, first to “no party” and finally to Republican.
Cointment’s concession Tuesday morning capped more than an hour of opening voting machines at the secretary of state’s warehouse in Gonzales as Cointment, one of his supporters, officials with Matassa’s campaign and reporters watched the process.
Hanna and other officials went machine by machine, checking vote tallies recorded on election night against counters on each machine. No discrepancies were found.
Hanna and Secretary of State’s Office officials have said since the use of electronic voting machines, post-election checks have not found voting problems.
Hanna said the parish Board of Election Supervisors will vote Wednesday whether to certify the results. The results don’t become “official” until they are promulgated, or published, by the Louisiana secretary of state in the state’s official journal.
Under the law, the office must promulgate the results on or before the 12th day after an election, if no challenges have been filed.
As Cointment watched the process, he acknowledged that any change in the results from the voting machines was unlikely. He also noted that the number of mail-in ballots thrown out in the race, 22, was not enough to sway the race.
“It’s so close. Any precinct could have changed the election. Any precinct,” he said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.