Tomorrow's tests will only handle a few hundred votes
The ElectionGuard machines deployed tomorrow in Fulton will only handle a few hundred votes, but this will provide many voting machine vendors and US election officials with a solid test if the software is worth a shot and if it's ready for wider deployment.
Using ElectionGuard tomorrow won't be complicated, as Microsoft designed the software from the ground up around ease of use, accessibility, and a user-friendly interface.
"Tomorrow's voting experience includes a three-step process," said Tom Burt, Vice President for Customer Security & Trust at Microsoft.
"First, a voter will select candidates on a touchscreen and verify their choices. Second, the voter will print and review for accuracy a paper ballot and simultaneously receive a separate tracking code. Third, the voter will deposit their ballot into a ballot box for counting."
All in all, 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.
The voting machines being deployed tomorrow in Fulton were built by VotingWorks.
Other voting machine vendors like Smartmatic and Clear Ballot also announced partnerships with Microsoft to build ElectionGuard-based voting machines last year. A third, Dominion Voting Systems, said it was also exploring using the SDK.
Both Microsoft and VotingWorks will have technical staff on site tomorrow in Fulton, but the companies don't expect any issues.
"We anticipate many more pilots of ElectionGuard technology as we get it ready for prime time," Burt said.