“We provide voting products and services to state and county governments across the USA,” said Aldo Tesi, chairman and CEO of Election Systems and Software.
Tesi explained that ES&S is a behind the scenes player for elections in support of the fundamental right to vote.
Election Systems and Software is currently in 45 states and assists about 2,300 of the 3,500 counties in the country. Last year, the company supported around 7,000 elections.
Said Tesi, “It’s everything from the actual tabulator itself to the supplies, things like ballots, ‘I voted’ stickers and the poll books, all the way through to the software that captures the results and reports it at night.”
Tesi used to be president of First Data and left them in 1999 to take his job at ES&S. He started out as a consultant when one of the owners, a man named Mike McCarthy, approached him to do some consulting work for the company. Tesi said he ended up loving ES&S and the people. Ultimately, McCarthy asked Tesi to run the company. It was an assignment Tesi was excited to take on.
About six months after Tesi began, the hanging chad hit and totally changed the industry.
The 2000 presidential race between Gore and Bush was the closest in history. As votes were recounted, problems arose specifically concerning voter intent and whether that could be ascertained from a ballot that had a hanging chad (the piece of paper left hanging from a punch-card ballot when the punch is incomplete).
Tesi said the debacle ended up presenting a tremendous opportunity for ES&S and the company was very successful.
“We grew our market share. Back in 2000, our market share was 28 percent, today it’s 61 percent. That means 61 percent of the voters across the country vote on our tabulators. We’ve also broadened our product offerings and are financially sound,” he said.
Tesi has been at the helm of ES&S for 14 years. The company has 450 employees in Omaha but uses many more individuals for elections.
“We provide customer support in two ways: First, we actually have people on-site at the customer location. During big elections we will have anywhere from 1,500-2,500 people out there, which is far greater than the number of employees we have,” Tesi said.
Over the years, ES&S has established a network of people that come in and learn the company’s products and services. These individuals go out to the election site. It’s very common for people who have family in certain places to be sent to work there so they get a free trip to visit their family and make some money.
“So we have people on-site and then we also have very knowledgeable people here in Omaha that take phone calls for troubleshooting in case a piece of equipment is not working. We also have people across the country that do field work, who actually go in and fix tabulators or install new software,” said Tesi.
Everything Election Systems and Software does is certified by the federal government and then also certified by the states.
Tesi explained the only national election is the race for President. After that, he said all elections are conducted at the state level whether it’s for governor, senator or other local races. And each state has a Chief Election Officer. In Nebraska that’s John Gale, Secretary of State. He said in most states it’s the Secretary of State. But there are some places where it’s a separate appointed or elected position.
“Their role is to govern the policies, procedures and laws around elections, but really the counties are the ones that administer it so we work closely with counties all over the country,” he said.
The largest county ES&S supports is New York City with 5.6 million voters and the smallest one is Arthur County, Nebraska with 364 voters.
The market is competitive. Tesi said there are six or seven other traditional competitors that are similar to ES&S. And then there are a lot of new entrants, especially around the area of Internet voting. He explained that Internet voting has some potential down the road but right now it’s not being certified for a whole host of reasons. He said there is a general concern about hacking as well as denial of service.
“We actually do Internet voting today for people who live overseas like military members. There are probably around 2.5 million people who live overseas and they deserve the right to vote. So about 45 days before an election, these people are contacted and they then have the ability to bring up the ballot online and vote it,” said Tesi.
Since the company began in 1984, the system has changed a lot. The company was first called American Information Systems (AIS). Tesi said back then it was a very small company.
“And they saw in Iowa what was being done for test scoring. They had those optical readers that would read an oval you filled in with a pencil, like on the SAT. They saw that technology and adapted it for the world of elections,” he said.
AIS went out and replaced many lever machines and punch card tabulators across the country. It was a limited product in the early days but it got the company into the election space.
Tesi said the company has been good since the early days and continues to excel with a culture he calls “Live Above the Line.” It’s a way of doing things that focuses on taking ownership and being accountable for positive results.
“And it provides a road map that empowers people to make a positive difference. So, it’s a very strong culture that has really brought us together as a team,” he said.
The road map consists of four parts: See it, Own it, Solve it, and Do it. Tesi describes the process as simple and straightforward. According to Tesi, the program also has a measurement system in it where company management communicates with employees each month, letting them know how they are performing in four key areas: employee satisfaction, product quality and value, customer satisfaction and financial performance.
“We want people to know if we’re doing well. This engages the people who work for us. The ‘Live Above the Line’ culture gets people actively engaged and when people get to that point, good things happen,” enthused Tesi.
ES&S’s “Live Above the Line” culture allows people, regardless of their level in the company, to stand up and take ownership of an opportunity or problem and to solve it in a positive way.
Tesi will be honored for his business success by being inducted into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame during a gala celebration on Wednesday, April 23, at the Holland Performing Arts Center, hosted by the Greater Omaha Chamber. Tesi said he feels honored to be personally recognized for the work ES&S does. And he said he feels great pride for what ES&S has done because no matter how hard he works, he can’t be successful without a lot of great people under him doing great things.
Tesi said the recognition he has received is as much for the people in his company as it is for him.
“Fundamentally, what I believe is if you can bring in great people and create an environment that allows them to be their best, ultimately, the company will be successful,” said Tesi. ,
Electronic Systems and Software is located at 108th and John Galt Blvd. Information is available at essvote.com