Lean Improves Efficiency of Yamhill County Elections

With today’s heated political environment across the country, voters in Yamhill County, Oregon will be pleased to learn of significant improvements made recently to streamline and bolster the integrity of the elections process.

A team of Election Workers – led by County Clerk Brian Van Bergen – applied Lean principles to the process of gathering, verifying, and counting ballots. The team reduced process steps by 26 percent and decreased the number of times a ballot is handled by 66 percent. Most importantly, the team established new processes that will continue to provide accurate results.

The new process was tested during this month’s Special District Election. “We have made significant cost improvements,” said Van Bergen, “and the new process is a much quicker approach while doing a more accurate and secure job for our citizens,” he said. The Yamhill County Clerk’s Office in McMinnville, Oregon is responsible for processing ballots at election time. Election Board Workers, working in pairs (each from different political parties), are required to wait until seven days before an election to open any ballots. On Election Day, teams must remain at the office until all ballots are processed, usually making for a long night for everyone. Tight security and complete transparency are maintained at all times.

Van Bergen has improved the process since taking office in January, 2013. This new application of Lean principles, however, put improvements into overdrive. With the old process, circuitous traffic flow and large batches led to longer processing times. Because the team was handling large batches and reorganizing and sorting multiple times, available space was crowded.

In March, the team enlisted The Peters Company, local specialists who help organizations apply Lean principles to their processes. In a facilitated two-day workshop, the team carefully examined and improved the process of gathering, verifying, and counting ballots. When the complete process was mapped out, they counted 192 non-value-added steps. Team members had been walking more than 503 feet per batch (nearly 7 feet per ballot). Ballots could be handled as many as thirty-five times.

By the second day of the workshop, the team had listed 11 opportunities to remove waste from the process. They mapped out a future state that decreased the number of process steps, reduced the number of times a ballot is handled, and reduced redundant documents. Batch sizes were reduced from 100 to 50.

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 boxes used for transporting the smaller batch-sizes of ballots. The new standard work is posted at every workstation.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson visited the county office on Election Day to see the new streamlined process in person. “The citizens of Yamhill County should thank this team for making sure that every dollar in the elections process is spent in an efficient manner,” he said. “This type of innovative thinking will maximize staff expertise and avoid unnecessary duplication, while increasing accuracy and security.”

“The Yamhill County Elections team really came through for voters,” said Rick Peters, workshop facilitator. “By reducing unneeded steps, batch sizes, and handling, they have significantly reduced opportunities for errors and made a more secure process for citizens. This could be a model for other Oregon counties looking to save costs and bolster confidence in the elections process.”

To learn more about Lean and view this case study with photos, visit www.petersco.net. For more information, contact Elizabeth Peters, epeters@petersco.net / 503-250-2235.