Microsoft demos new ElectionGuard voting system, plans to pilot the tech next year

Last month, Microsoft launched a new service, Microsoft 365 for Campaigns, as part of its Defending Democracy Program. The tech giant had also simultaneously been working on developing a new voting system to work in conjunction with the aforementioned service, and others, in order to protect institutions and electoral processes in democratic countries.

Now, Microsoft has initiated the first demonstration for its voting system, the ElectionGuard, at the Aspren Security Forum. The demo, built using a Microsoft Surface tablet in kiosk mode and an Xbox Adaptive Controller for optional usage, is aimed toward showing how a secure, affordable system that assists people will disabilities can be utilized.

Over the past year, through its AccountGuard program, the Redmond giant has discovered evidence of attacks on democratic organizations. 95% of 781 nation-state attacks uncovered through this program were found to have been targeting U.S. organizations. For this reason, Microsoft believes that NGOs, political campaigns, and election systems need to be protected heading into the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

This is where ElectionGuard comes in, designed specifically to combat cyberthreats while remaining compatible with existing voting systems. Three core features are being showcased as part of the demo, the first of which is the ability to vote directly using the tablet touch screen or the Xbox Adaptive Controller, helping it make easier for people with disabilities to vote as well. Moving on, people who use the demoed version are being given a tracking code to verify that their vote has been counted, and not altered. This is noted as a 'key feature' of ElectionGuard, made possible through homomorphic encryption, an idea pioneered for election systems by Microsoft Research. Lastly, end-to-end verifiability will also be showcased, with voters being provided a physical record of their votes that can be checked by placing them into a physical ballot box.

Only a few of its overall capabilities are being demonstrated for now. The final SDK will include features such as Risk Limiting Audits to compare ballots with ballot counts as well.

Microsoft has also announced new partnerships with two leading voting tech vendors, namely Smartmatic and Clear Ballot. The tech giant is also teaming up with Columbia university's professors, who will help in piloting the new voting system in the U.S. 2020 elections. ElectionGuard is free and open-source, and will be made available later this summer through GitHub as an SDK.

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