Microsoft's open 'ElectionGuard' SDK aims to secure democratic elections

At its Build 2019 developer conference, Microsoft today announced an open source tool for helping to protect elections. Called "ElectionGuard," the software development kit (SDK) is focused on making sure that votes are verifiable, secure, and auditable.

In terms of verification, ElectionGuard enables voters to track their votes through a web portal with a unique code; they can also optionally confirm that their votes were correctly tabulated and not altered or tampered with, and properly counted. The ElectionGuard SDK will also allow anyone to build their own election verifier, allowing news media, observers, voters, and candidates to confirm votes were accurately recorded.

To secure things, Microsoft is using a type of encryption called "homomorphic encryption." With a lot of the work done by Microsoft Research to make it work in election systems, homomorphic encryption allows "mathematical procedures – like counting – to be done with fully encrypted data." From Microsoft:

By running an open election verifier, anyone can securely confirm that the encrypted votes have been correctly aggregated and that this encrypted tabulation has been correctly decrypted to produce the final tally. This process allows anyone to verify the correct counting of votes by inspecting the public election record while keeping voting records secure. The use of homomorphic encryption to enable verification is separate from and in addition to the process of paper ballots counted as an official election tally.

On the auditing front, the ElectionGuard SDK can be used to support an "enhanced form of statistical auditing." Using an encrypted, electronic record of every ballot, election officials can use ElectionGuard to select ballot records at random and compare them against their paper record to ensure the integrity of an election.

Microsoft has also built a reference voting machine with enhancements to make voting a less onerous process. In one example, people will be able to research candidates and make their vote selections at home. After they've made their selections, the can then print a QR code that will automatically populate their ballot at their voting place when scanned.

Microsoft says it is already working with election systems vendors to incorporate aspects of the ElectionGuard SDK in current voting machines and those that are still in development. The ElectionGuard SDK is expected to be available through GitHub this summer, according to Microsoft. ElectionGuard also complements the launch of Microsoft 365 for campaigns (opens in new tab) to help protect political campaigns from hacking.

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Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

  • This might go a long way in helping weak democracies - like the United States. Jokes aside, great idea.
  • Your joke is funny because it's true. Their voting machine companies retooled accounting software to turn it into voting software. As such it's possible that whoever controls the machine can determine what percentage of a person can vote for a candidate.
  • But thank God we are not a democracy but a republic. The only way that there will ever be a reliable electronic voting system is when all of the components, both hardware and software, from end to end, are open-sourced so that they can be validated by anyone who chooses to do so. Along with that open-sourcing, though, we need to have a way to assure that the code being viewed is actually the code (and the only code) running on the machine.
  • Not this semantic issue again. How do you think the republic is elected? Democratically. It's not a democracy, it's a republic is like saying "it's not blue, it's a car"
  • The Constitution states, in Article IV Section 4:
    "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government..." Stating that it is not a democracy, it's a republic is like stating fact. Unless and until the democrats get their way and destroy it by going with a popular vote, it is a republic. But since the Constitution guarantees a republican form of government, I believe the popular vote trend, if ever passed, will be found unconstitutional. There are very good reasons that our founding fathers were diametrically opposed to a democracy, and they were right. Democracy always leads to destruction.
  • Says guy who probably supported Russia attacking our 2016 Election.
  • Says some guy who definitely has no idea what is going on in the world. Actually, I am diametrically opposed to the Russians interfering in our elections. Thank God they didn't get the candidate that they wanted. Also, I put on a uniform in the 1980s to defend our great nation, and at that time Russia was one of our greatest enemies. They still rank pretty high in my book.
  • Love the armchair political science on display here... I bet you have many leather-bound books and your apartment smells of rich mahogany lol...
  • No armchair political science on display. 50+ years of experience at life, and paying attention to what actually goes on in the world, rather than burying my head in CNN.
  • So... legitimate question, what's the difference between a republic and a democracy? I actually went to the effort of researching myself, he's right the US is a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy, though there isn't a huge amount of difference between the two.
  • We are both. It's not either/or. Both statements are accurate.
  • Saying the US is a republic, not a democracy is the Oxford comma of political science. It completely misses the point, but the point of saying it is to sound sophisticated to people who are easily impressed. Lol I love how this conversation has evolved... As if any of this has to do with the integrity of elections systems...
  • > To secure things, Microsoft is using a type of encryption called "homomorphic encryption." With a lot of the work done by Microsoft Research to make it work in election systems, homomorphic encryption allows "mathematical procedures – like counting – to be done with fully encrypted data." This sounds like "compressible encryption" marketing thing of the years past. If the result is not random enough to defeat any operations on it, it is not encrypted.
  • Funny, 2016 was completely "democratic" and yet left wing lunatics are still crying about it, after inventing conspiracy theories and trying to run a coup on Trump.