First, it was Jimmy Strickland III in the runoff. Then it was Joe Fraught. Now it’s Strickland again — and for now, at least, it looks like he will stay there.
The question of who will face incumbent T.J. Smith in the runoff for the St. Tammany Parish Council District 14 seat — the only seat currently held by an African-American — wasn’t settled until Tuesday, when election workers opened the machines from one Slidell precinct, No. 814.
They discovered that of the precinct’s four machines, only one machine’s results had been recorded Saturday, leading to a retally that took Strickland from 10 votes behind to 35 votes ahead.
The first set of complete but unofficial results Saturday night showed Strickland with a slight lead over Fraught for a spot in the runoff, though both trailed well behind Smith.
The problem cropped up when the cartridges from the four machines were taken to the parish Clerk of Court’s Office in Slidell to be tallied. Three of them read perfectly, but one was unreadable, so a results tape was printed out and faxed to the clerk’s Covington office, according to Becky Galatas, the election supervisor for Clerk of Court Malise Prieto.
When the results were entered manually, it caused the results from the other cartridges to be overwritten, Galatas said.
That’s when it appeared that Fraught had edged ahead of Strickland.
The error was missed when commissioners evaluated the results from around the parish Saturday night, Galatas said. But when election workers went to the warehouse during the normal election review, they realized that only one machine from the precinct was listed, she said.
When the votes from the other three machines were added in, Strickland was back in the lead.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Strickland said Wednesday. “It was a stressful few days.”
He said he didn’t want to comment on how the mistake was made.
Fraught did not return a phone call for comment.
Events like this are why the results reported election night are not official, said Meg Casper, of the Secretary of State’s Office. The final results won’t be certified by the office until Nov. 5.
“This is a cleanup period,” she said of the days after any election. “It’s not unusual for numbers to change, especially if it’s a close race.”
The runoff is Nov. 21.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.