More on lean management principles for election officials

MIT graduate student Tomer Posner has finished his Master’s thesis on lean management principles for election administration, something I wrote about a few months back. The completed thesis, “Application of Lean Management Principles to Election Systems”, is a careful and interesting analysis of how this particular genre of modern business management practices can be applied to election administration. Here is the abstract for Tomer’s thesis:

Lean was first adopted as a management technique for improving results in manufacturing environments. It is based on the 5 principles of identifying the Value to be created, mapping the Value-Stream (incremental addition of value), ensuring process
Flow, orienting the process towards the Pull of the customer and finally eliminating all Waste through a process of continuous improvement. This framework is highly adaptable, and has been applied in recent years to non-manufacturing efforts, such as product development and the retail and service industries.

We explore the application of Lean to voting. Applications can be found in the phases of technology development, production, deployment, poll management and more. By following a structured approach based on Lean, the efforts to advance voting solutions in the US can gain in efficiency, security, privacy and credibility over their current state. These will be adapted to deal with the voting environment, which imposes a unique set of challenges and follows priorities different from normal corporations. Additional Lean elements, such as eliminating irregularities through standardization, improved training and process transparency will be reviewed.

The development and deployment of Brazilian voting system will be presented as an example of how Lean elements can be used in the voting setting. While not intentionally created by the Lean model, the design, deployment and current use of the Brazilian system is highly complimentary to this model.

Finally, we suggest ways in which such an approach can be applied to the U.S. voting system. With a theoretical structure in place, specific improvement efforts can be devised and applied in the field. This study, therefore, is intended as a preliminary effort of identifying a problem and modeling it. It hopes to induce a commitment to Lean which will put in motion a cycle of implementation, elaboration and continuous improvement.

Many readers will find Chapter 3 of Tomer’s thesis of interest, where he provides great detail into the case study of Brazil, and that country’s develop of their voting technology. Tomer shows how the Lean model was applied in the Brazil case in Chapter 3, which is a thorough chapter and well worth reading.

Somewhat intriguingly, the thesis discusses some information from a survey conducted in Brazil in 2005, with some tantalizing details quickly discussed on pages 77-79. Some of the survey questions here parallel ones that Thad and I have worked on in samples of American voters, so it will be fascinating when Tomer published the complete results from this survey to compare some of these evaluations of electronic voting to the evaluations of American voters (see, for example, our report from September 2004 on “American Attitudes About Electronic Voting”).

In the end, for those interested in improving election administration, Tomer’s thesis is a worthwhile read. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it is a MIT MA thesis — it is highly readable, and quite interesting. We’ve heard folks recently talking about the need for a science of election administration, and for more efforts to understand election administration. Here is a step in that direction!

Congratulations to Tomer on this accomplishment, and on successfully defending his MA thesis. And congratulations to his advisor, Ted Selker, for his encouragement and efforts with Tomer to get this interesting project completed.