Microsoft demos ElectionGuard technology for securing electronic voting machines

New ElectionGuard SDK to be open-sourced on GitHub; provided for free to voting machine vendors.

Microsoft ElectionGuard

Microsoft ElectionGuard demos on July 17, 2019 at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

Image: Microsoft

At the Aspen Security Forum today, Microsoft demoed a new technology named ElectionGuard, which the company said can be used to secure modern electronic voting machines.

Microsoft is currently only demoing the new voting tech in a controlled environment and said it has no plans to release commercial voting machines under its brand.

Instead, the OS maker said it would release the software behind ElectionGuard on GitHub, under an open-source license, later this year.

How ElectionGuard works

As Microsoft explained today, the technology behind ElectionGuard is relatively simple and centers around a few core principles.

  • People who vote receive a tracking code.
  • They can use the tracking code on an election website to verify that their vote has been counted and that the vote has not been altered.
  • The tracking code does not reveal the vote, so it won't allow third-parties to see who voted for who.
  • ElectionGuard uses a so-called homomorphic encryption scheme developed in-house at Microsoft under Senior Cryptographer Josh Benaloh.
  • Homomorphic encryption allows the counting of votes while keeping the votes encrypted.
  • The ElectionGuard SDK also supports third-party "verifier" apps to independently check if encrypted votes have been counted properly and not altered.
  • Verifier apps were created for voting officials, the media, or any third party interested in the voting process.
  • ElectionGuard machines can also produce paper ballots, as a printed record of their vote, which voters can place inside voting boxes, like old-fashioned votes.
  • ElectionGuard also supports voting through accessibility hardware, such as Microsoft Surface or the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

ElectionGuard already garnering interest

Microsoft hopes that voting machine makers will use its new ElectionGuard software for their products. According to Microsoft, the SDK has been warmly welcomed by some voting machine vendors already.

"We previously announced that we have partnerships with suppliers that build and sell more than half of the voting systems used in the United States," said Tom Burt, Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust.

"Today, we're excited to announce that we're also now partnering with Smartmatic and Clear Ballot, two of the leading voting technology vendors, and Dominion Voting Systems is actively exploring the inclusion of ElectionGuard in their offerings."

ElectionGuard is just the latest free offering the company is adding to its Defending Democracy Program, which aims to provide free tools for governments and political parties across the world, so they can safeguard the election process.

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