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Case Study: Catawba County, NC — Makes. Elections. Better.

June 2, 2023

In 2020, a handful of Catawba County, NC, voters received the wrong ballot when checking in at their One-Stop early voting location. Fast forward to North Carolina’s 2021 primary elections. Catawba County debuted its new ExpressVote Printers from Election Systems & Software (ES&S) at all One-Stop locations, and 100% of early voters received their correct ballot at check-in.

A Catawba County, NC voter receives the state-required absentee voting application as the first step to checking in for early voting during the 2021 primary election.

Catawba County is committed to efficiently conducting accessible, secure and accurate elections, ensuring its more than 100,000 registered voters can exercise their right to vote.

Across North Carolina, One-Stop absentee voting (commonly known as “early voting”) allows any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in person on select days before Election Day at any early voting site in their county.

“In 2020, during early voting, at least three to five voters received incorrect ballots,” Catawba County Elections Director Amanda Duncan said. “We train our poll workers to pull ballots, but there are a lot of distractions. And with the long lines, workers were stressed and overworked, so things like this happen.”

How does a voter receive the wrong ballot? Human error. Poll workers are everyday members of the community who step up and volunteer to support democracy. And sometimes, they make a mistake.

One-Stop Voting Then

In the past, at check-in during One-Stop, a voter would complete and sign an absentee request application. A poll worker would pull a blank ballot and write the state-required retrievable number, precinct number and ballot style number on the back of the blank ballot. Then a different poll worker would accompany the voter to the ballot marking device, put the blank ballot into the machine and select the voter’s correct ballot style to activate the vote session. There were lots of opportunities for human error and plenty of room for improved efficiencies.

One-Stop Voting Now

The new process using the ExpressVote Printer provides an accurate, seamless check-in experience. When a voter checks in, they receive and sign the state-required application. A poll worker then puts a blank ballot in the ExpressVote Printer, which is connected to North Carolina’s state voter registration database via a direct USB connection. The ExpressVote Printer prints the voter’s precinct number and ballot style barcode on the ballot. The voter inserts their ballot into the ExpressVote ballot marking device, and the correct ballot is displayed on the touch screen. Now there is no opportunity for human error, and the county has a more efficient process.

“During this past election, I saw that our workers felt more comfortable. They felt more comfortable helping voters. They were confident the voter got their correct ballot. They saw it work — they trust the system,” Duncan said.

A Catawba County poll worker puts a blank ballot in the ExpressVote Printer, which prints a voter’s precinct number and ballot style barcode on the ballot.

Because each voter’s ballot style is printed directly from the state’s database, poll workers and election officials have confidence the voter will receive their correct ballot 100% of the time.

“My goal in purchasing the ExpressVote Printers was to eliminate the possibility of human error. And it does,” Duncan said. “It also reduces the time it takes poll workers to help voters begin the voting process.”

The ExpressVote Printer prints the correct ballot style in as little as five seconds and eliminates the need for a poll worker to manually activate the vote session with the proper ballot style on the ballot marking device. Because it uses a thermal printer, the ExpressVote Printer does not need ink or toner. It also eliminates waste by printing at the polls on blank card stock. There’s no need to pre-print thousands of ballots that may never be used.

“I don’t see how a county, especially our size, runs an election without some type of ballot print-on-demand system,” Duncan said. “The number of ballots you’d have to order and print. Can you imagine? Talk about human error. We had 156 ballot styles this past election. I can’t imagine having to have that much stock at your One-Stop (early voting) location. And then having to pull the correct ballot!”

What makes ES&S and the ExpressVote Printer stand out from the competition?

Icon of a stopwatch with a dollar sign in the middle, representing time and cost savings.

ES&S’ ExpressVote Printer offers big savings and gets it right every time …

  • Saves poll workers time because it’s plug and play
  • No need for special transportation or large storage space
  • Eliminates ballot waste by printing on demand
  • Saves money — no ink or other consumables
  • Provides confidence that the voter will receive their correct ballot. The ballot is printed on demand for each voter.
  • Accelerates the voter check-in process with a secure, hardwired connection to the state’s database

… all proven by the successful use of more than 40,000 ExpressVote Printers across the country.

Plus, the ExpressVote Printer seamlessly integrates with ExpressPoll electronic pollbook and the ExpressVote Universal Voting System product family, providing an end-to-end, proven early voting and Election Day solution. Catawba was the first county in North Carolina to use ES&S ExpressVote Printers and ExpressVote universal voting machines for all voters during early voting.

The older generation loves the ExpressVote. As you get older, the circles on the ballot seem to get smaller. It’s hard to read them.”

“There were no other alternatives in the market. And we don’t mix and match vendors when it comes to our election equipment. We need the partnership to fit like a glove,” Duncan said.

“Catawba County appreciates the support and service they receive from ES&S. We take customer relationships seriously,” ES&S Regional Sales Manager Cara Florence said. “In fact, customer satisfaction is one of our key operational objectives. This companywide customer-centric motivation places customers at the heart of every decision we make.”

“We know ES&S is by our side,” Duncan said. “If anything were ever to arise, you guys would be there. I’ve seen it happen. That means more to me – that you are there with us. You are stationed in areas throughout the state. People don’t understand that. You all can be in our county within minutes. I like that. I have an assurance that if anything were to arise, you would be by my side. The products speak for themselves. They are great.”

So what is next for Catawba County?

Voters and poll workers will continue to benefit from the ongoing improvements Catawba County is making at its One-Stop locations, including the addition of the ES&S ExpressPoll electronic pollbook.

“Now that we have this new equipment and process mastered, my next goal is to get our county the ExpressPoll to integrate with the ExpressVote Printer,” Duncan said.

ExpressVote Printer integrates with ExpressPoll electronic pollbook and the ExpressVote Universal Voting System product family, providing an end-to-end, proven early voting and Election Day solution.
ExpressVote Printer integrates with ExpressPoll electronic pollbook and the ExpressVote Universal Voting System product family, providing an end-to-end, proven early voting and Election Day solution.

ExpressPoll will further enhance the election experience for Catawba County voters and poll workers. Voters will experience even shorter check-in and verification waiting times. Poll workers will have an intuitive, easy-to-use electronic pollbook similar to the digital devices they use daily.

Duncan shared, “We are excited about the ExpressPoll. We want to be up on technology. We don’t want to be that county still using old equipment. We want the newest and best for our voters.”



Want to read more about how this small, unassuming, yet mighty printer has improved early voting and Election Day for other counties? Check out our blog post: The Little Printer That Could