Tech giant Microsoft is taking a step into the world of election security, offering a new open-source software called “ElectionGuard,” which it claims is an “end-to-end” voting verification system to “modernize” elections.
AP News reports that Microsoft is entering the world of election security with the introduction of new open-source software called “ElectionGuard.” The name of the new software seems quite close to Microsoft’s partner NewsGuard, the browser extension bundled with the Microsoft Edge mobile browser that purports to be the arbiter of reliability in media. In practice, NewsGuard has repeatedly verified hoax Russian election tampering stories as true while blacklisting multiple conservative news websites as “fake news.”
Now, Microsoft is offering to step in to make voting more secure and transparent, according to the company. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an announcement on Monday at a Seattle developer’s conference that the software would help to “modernize all of the election infrastructure everywhere in the world.”
Currently, the market for election equipment in the U.S. is controlled by three little-known companies: Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska; Dominion Voting Systems of Denver and Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas. These companies have been criticized for their lack of transparency and security issues in the past. So far, ES&S and Hart InterCivic have expressed interest in working Microsoft and its ElectionGuard software.
Microsoft plans to provide the ElectionGuard development kit to interested parties for free as part of the company’s Defending Democracy Program. Microsoft’s Office 365 application suite will also be offered to political parties and campaigns at a 75 percent discount as part of this initiative.
Josh Benaloh, a senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research and a key contributor to the ElectionGuard project, stated that ElectionGuard is meant to work as a standalone project but can be implemented in existing election systems also. Benaloh stated: “It can be used with a ballot-marking device. It can be used with an optical scanner, on hand-marked paper ballots.”
ElectionGuard is designed to provide an “end-to-end” voting verification system via two methods. Firstly, ElectionGuard allows voters to confirm that their votes have been accurately recorded. Secondly, ElectionGuard uses a unique coded tracker to register an encrypted version of an individual’s vote while keeping the choice of the ballot a secret, this ensures that votes are accurately counted.
Edgardo Cortés, a former Virginia elections commissioner now with New York University’s Brennan Center, commented on ElectionGuard stating: “I think it’ll take a while to catch on and see how beneficial (ElectionGuard) ends up being, but I think it certainly does have a great deal of potential.” Microsoft will be partnering with Columbia University to audit the pilot ElectionGuard pilot program.
Microsoft is not a stranger to the Federal government. Christopher C. Kerbs, who served as the Director for Cybersecurity Policy on Microsoft’s U.S. Government Affairs team, was appointed as the first director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) by President Trump in June, 2018.