KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Many of West Michigan’s voters will cast their ballots Tuesday on equipment from Kentwood.
ElectionSource, located on Danvers Drive SE off Patterson Avenue SE, provides election support to Michigan, Kansas, Iowa and some TV shows.
“We sold some things to movie shows like ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘Modern Family,’ things like that. Helped them get through some elections that were on television. That was kind of fun,” said ElectionSource owner and president Jeffrey DeLongchamp.
The company prints ballots and manufactures and sells thousands of election supplies nationwide, including the Dominion machines most counties use, as well as voter stickers.
“This year is a slow election year,” said DeLongchamp. “So this year, maybe total we may have sold maybe a few million voting stickers. Next year it’ll just be millions upon millions. It could be anywhere from 10 to 100 million ‘I voted’ stickers.”
PREPARING FOR A BOOM IN BUSINESS
While this Election Day is a slower one for the company, DeLongchamp expects next year’s presidential election to boost orders and hiring at ElectionSource. The company plans to roughly double its workforce to 60- 70 people for the 2020 election and is already preparing for a 75% increase in orders nationwide.
ElectionSource also expects to expand its election reporting software — a relatively new system being used only in Michigan right now — to other states next year.
But with success comes challenges.
“One nice thing about West Michigan is that West Michigan is doing so well. The other hard thing is that unemployment is obviously very low here,” said DeLongchamp. “What we’re finding even in our assembly of our products here, it’s very difficult to find people to work. This unemployment is so low here on this side of the state.”
HOW VOTING HAS CHANGED
DeLongchamp has been involved in the election industry for more than 20 years. He said elections have changed a lot over the decades, becoming more accessible but also complex and costly to secure.
“Security is much higher than it ever has been. The equipment that’s out there now is some of the best that’s ever been manufactured for not only security reasons, but also from the voter side as well,” DeLongchamp said.
This year also brings major changes to Michigan’s election laws. Voters can now register to vote up to and on Election Day, and opt for an absentee ballot for any reason.
DeLongchamp expects a shift in demand for supplies his company provides, like envelopes for absentee voter ballots. However, he says clerks handling elections will likely see the biggest impact of the new voter laws.
“They are going to see a very large uptick in people requesting absent voter ballots for this next year and processing those ballots has become more difficult, too,” he explained.
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An increase in absentee voter ballots will likely also mean a drop in Election Day turnout at precincts. DeLongchamp expects clerks to shift more election volunteers to absentee voter ballot counting.
He said larger cities are also switching to high-speed tabulation systems that can read ballots faster, like a scanner.
“It’s very smart, still uses the same software and is able to read those ballots as well. And you still have the paper ballot. So, if anything is ever a contested election, they can always hand count them as well,” he explained.
WHY MICHIGAN STANDS OUT
While ElectionSource sells nationwide, DeLongchamp says the company’s home state stands out.
“We are one of the highest… not only for security technology, voter registration, election laws. Michigan by far leads most of the country on everything to do with elections,” he said.
However, DeLongchamp said voters are also seeing the consequences of a general trend across the state to consolidate races to even years.
“We do have some of the largest ballots in the United States on Election Day,” he said. “Everybody has been able to stuff it onto one ballot, but the bad is it takes a long time to vote a ballot that long. And that’s one thing that can happen in the polling places, is long lines. It could take you 15 minutes to half an hour to vote everything on that ballot.”
DeLongchamp says while security remains one of the top concerns among voters, Michigan residents shouldn’t be worried because each township and city runs its own election and keeps their machines, making it virtually impossible to alter race results.
“You’d have to have thousands of people going to thousands of locations across (the state) to actually try to infiltrate an election here in the state of Michigan,” he explained.
Another level of security is the voter machines Michigan now uses.
“The equipment that is out there now are some of the best that’s ever been made — none of it ever touches the internet. There’s no way to access the equipment itself, it all has military-grade encryption,” said DeLongchamp.
He says the machines have three levels of security to ensure accurate results: backup memory cards that can be accessed after the ballots have been tabulated, digital images of each ballot taken by the machine and the actual voter ballot, which can be hand counted.
And anyone contemplating breaking into ElectionSource to access its servers will have a tough time, according to DeLongchamp.
“The only way to do that would be to literally break through three levels of security in our building, break through all of our security systems that we have on our servers and internet, and even then they would have to figure out what they were going to try to do from that point on,” he explained.
DeLongchamp says hackers are also out of luck: The company’s servers are not connected to the internet and everything gets scrubbed before it touches voting equipment.
“Literally nothing from the outside world touches our election system here inside,” he said.