Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Franklin Foil will be in the runoff against the Democratic candidate Beverly Brooks-Thompson after a hand recount Thursday found four votes were counted differently than should have been and broke a tie for the second-place finishers in the race for the Louisiana Senate.

Both Republican state Reps. Foil and Steve Carter tied with 12,522 ballots each after Saturday’s election to replace term-limited Dan Claitor in the state Senate District 16 seat covering much of southeast Baton Rouge. Foil received 4,971 early votes – the rest were cast on election day machines – and Carter got 4,670 votes early.

Democratic candidate Beverly Brooks Thompson led the field with 14,211 total votes and already was assured a place in the runoff.

Thursday's hand count showed Foil picked up one vote and Carter lost three votes, meaning Foil won by four votes. It's the third different tally of votes since election night. But this is the one likely to stick.

"It was too close for comfort," Foil said in an interview Thursday night after the election count was certified. "This was the only count done by hand, where people physically looked at each ballot rather than being counted by machine, like the previous ones."

Foil said he would relax tonight with his family, the week has been very tense, and start the runoff campaign first thing Friday morning.

The East Baton Rouge Board of Election Supervisors was in charge of the recount of about 1,400 paper ballots, mostly cast by absentees, military and shut-ins. Once the recount results were certified as official by the supervisors, who were set up in the middle of the room, the runoff ballot was officially set. Any changes now would have to be ordered by a judge. Ballots that weren't accepted by election commissioners in Saturday's initial count or not following the required process, such as not signing a mail-in absentee ballot clearly enough – there's about 107 of these parishwide – would have to be sorted out in court, if one of the candidates file legal challenge by Monday.

There was much worry among some Republicans that the recount would end in a tie again, which would have forced a three-way runoff that could have split the GOP vote between Carter and Foil, giving the Democratic Thompson a much greater shot of flipping the seat than would a head-to-head matchup with a single Republican. The seat has been held by a Republican since 1987, including at one time by current U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and the current Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. 

Republican fundraiser Lane Grigsby, whose Baton Rouge home is in Senate District 16, increased interest in the race when he revealed that he had offered to help Foil in a future election if he stepped aside for this one. Foil refused.

Thompson was the only candidate to show up for the recount Thursday. She said she had a race to run and was unconcerned who else would be in it.

Foil and Carter stayed away with each sending seven "friends," several of whom are lawyers, to watch.

Lawyers Jack Whitehead, for Foil, and Josh Melder, for Carter, both said they were wanting to ensure that the rules were properly followed and the vote count was accurate. Each campaign assigned monitors to each recount table to keep a running tally of votes separate from what the commissioners did. Both said after the results were announced that they were satisfied. Both said they didn't see any problems that weren't addressed immediately. Whitehead said the matter probably wouldn't end up in court. Melder withheld comment on filing a lawsuit, saying he needed to talk with Carter first.

"Accuracy is paramount,” East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn said in the moments before the paper ballots were distributed. “We’ve got to get this 100% right.”

Election commissioners sitting at six tables first took a couple of hours to sort the different kinds of paper ballots for absentee and early votes. Each precinct had different contests on their individual ballots. (Regular election day machines don’t use paper ballots.) The seals were broken on the boxes in which all paper ballots had been stored since Saturday night.

The first step was to sort the 58 ballot styles to find the 16 that included Senate District 16 race. The remainder of the ballots were returned to sealed boxes.

Only red pens and the preprinted tally sheets were allowed on the counting table, no drink cups, no water bottles, no paper tablets or newspapers. 

When the actual vote count began, one commissioner at each table read aloud whose name was marked on each individual ballot. Then using a red pen, the two other commissioners made a mark in a box on the tally sheet. Every time a box was filled with five marks, a commissioner said “Five,” to ensure both counters were in sync. If a commissioner accidentally marked the wrong box, and this happened several times, everything stopped while Raborn or one of his aides signed off on the fix. The counts took place as crowds of observers stood over the table watching. Monitors at each table kept a separate count.

The tally sheets were collected and the results were checked again by a member of the Clerk Court's Office and the Voter Registrar's Office. The totals from each tally sheet was added up by calculator by two different commissioners. 

While the noise level was a dull roar throughout much of the process, total silence accompanied the final review and calculation. The results then were presented to the Board of Election Supervisors, who voted and announced the results.

Senate District 16 is one of the most affluent in Louisiana, including in its boundaries the high-end Country Club of Louisiana, a smattering of industry executives, much of the LSU campus and most of the neighborhoods where the university's faculty and staff live.

A stack of paper ballots that was apparently double-counted on Saturday night turned Foil’s razor-thin second-place finish into a stunning tie with his fellow Republican Steve Carter, throwing the race into turmoil and raising the possibility of a historic three-way runoff election.

Foil, a state representative and longtime friend and seatmate of Carter’s in the Louisiana House, said he was watching election results Saturday with friends and family at home. With 100% of precincts reporting, the secretary of state’s unofficial election results website showed Foil had edged out Carter by just eight votes. He said he went to bed thinking he would face Thompson in a Nov. 16 runoff.

But about 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin called to inform Foil of a development in the race: The paper ballots had been rescanned by election officials after a discrepancy in the vote total, and Foil’s eight-vote lead evaporated. He was tied with Carter.

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