The Problem

The Yamhill County Clerk’s Office in McMinnville, Oregon – among other duties and responsibilities – processes election ballots at least once or twice per year. This process is accomplished primarily by temporary Election Board Workers, working in pairs (each from different political parties), who are required to wait until seven days before Election Day to open any ballots. On Election Night, teams must remain at the office until all ballots are processed, requiring long hours. Tight security and complete transparency are maintained at all times.

With the old process, circuitous traffic flow and large batch sizes created bottlenecks and slowed production. Handling large batches of ballots at a time caused overprocessing as the team was forced to reorganize and sort ballots multiple times. Available space was crowded.

When our staff mapped out the complete process, they counted 192 non-value-added steps. Team members were walking more than 503 feet per batch (nearly 7 feet per ballot). Individual ballots could be handled as many as thirty-five times.

How We Solved the Problem

During a two-day facilitated workshop, The Peters Company worked with a group of Election Board Workers, led by County Clerk Brian Van Bergen, to carefully examine and improve the process of gathering, verifying, and counting ballots. After brief training on the concepts of value, waste, and batch vs. flow, they used process mapping to identify the current state of the process. By the second day, the team had listed 11 opportunities to apply Lean principles to remove waste from the process without compromising accuracy.

By the end of day two, the team mapped out a future state of the process that reduced steps by 26 percent and decreased the number of times a ballot is handled by 66 percent. For instance, the team established a process that identifies voter signature issues more quickly with greater clarity, thereby reducing defects, speeding communication with voters, and strengthening the integrity of the county’s election process. Also, batch sizes were reduced from 100 to 50 in their first attempt, with further reductions possible in the future.

The team created standard work and held an orientation session to bring everyone on board with the new approach. They created a new workflow that reduces the waste of motion, and right-sized the boxes for transporting the smaller batch-sizes of ballots. The new standard work was posted at every workstation. The new process was tested during the May, 2017 Special District Election.

Value to Client

  • Decreased handling of ballots by 66%
  • Decreased inventory by 50%
  • Decreased people travel by 55%
  • Increased productivity and morale

“Having worked in custom manufacturing for 25 years, I have spent much of my career working projects in batches – the larger the better (or so I thought),” said Yamhill County Clerk Brian Van Bergen. “It was extremely counter-intuitive for me to consider small batch sizes as a method of increasing speed, accuracy and efficiency. But, I have heard for years of the improvements that Lean brings to organizations. With our exploding voter registration numbers, I knew we needed a radical change in how we process voted ballots in our office. In the November 2016 Presidential Election, 49,697 of our then 62,702 registered voters cast ballots. Just 4 years earlier, we only had 51,813 total registered voters in the 2012 Presidential Election – a 20% increase in just 4 years.”

“With the support and leadership of the Peters Company, our Election Teams have helped us develop several changes that look minor on the surface but made significant improvements to our speed, accuracy, and efficiency in processing voted ballots,” Van Bergen said.

Below is a comparison of the most recent election to the same election four years ago. Here is a summary of Yamhill County’s production of both elections:

2013 2017
# of cast ballots 11,566 12,215
# of batches 159 335
Avg. batch size 73 36
Total feet walked (est.) 79,925 38,138
Feet walked per ballot 6.9 3.1
Feet walked per OCVR batch 502.7 113.8
 Ballots per hour  37.2  48.9
Board worker hours 285.5 239.55
Office staff’s extra hours 25 10

Photo Gallery

I heard nothing but praise from our team members, especially when we were able to process ballots faster with the same high degree of accuracy. We had a visit from Secretary of State Dennis Richardson who was interested in what each of us was doing. It was a good opportunity for us to show off the results of the work Brian had in mind when he hired the two of you to discover the places in our former process that were redundant. Thanks so much for listening to our ideas and leading us to a better, more rewarding process--for us, and ultimately, our voters.
S. Walsh
Election Board Worker
Yamhill County