Microsoft's 'ElectionGuard' aims to help 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 to help protect political campaigns from hacking.

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