Microsoft’s ElectionGuard will make future elections safer

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Microsoft's ElectionGuard will make voting safer in the future.
Image: Microsoft

Ever since the 2016 presidential election, concerns have swirled surrounding the safety of voting and the legitimacy of its results. Unfortunately, there’s no way to hack-proof an election. Really, it’s impossible to make anything in the digital domain un-hackable.

So, instead, Microsoft is working on a project that will make hacking elections pointless. Its ElectionGuard open-source voting machine software might be the most important thing the Redmond-based company creates all year. With the 2020 presidential election just around the corner, a system like this could quell the fears of a nation by securing the voting process for everyone.

Creating a Red Flag System

At its core, ElectionGuard couldn’t be simpler. Rather than investing in complex software that makes hacking a voting precinct impossible, Microsoft’s solution makes it pointless. ElectionGuard helps reveal if a vote has been hacked, essentially rendering such a malicious act useless.

The company is knee-deep in new product launches that are poised to make an impact in every sector. Its dual-screen Surface devices have users excited for something fresh while the forthcoming Xbox Series X is ready to bring consumers the newest in gaming technology.

Unlike these offerings, ElectionGuard hasn’t received a flashy, press-driven launch. Instead, the product demo shows off its functionality by way of a set-up in Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters.

Although it has been available since September, ElectionGuard is just now getting its first taste of real-world action. It will be used during a local election in Fulton, Wisconsin on Tuesday. The test will help Microsoft identify flaws in its system before ElectionGuard is rolled out to larger voting areas.

Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust says, “This is a critical, important part of why we’re having this pilot next week… To find out, does this stuff all work? Do people verify? Do they do these things?”

How Does ElectionGuard Work?

Microsoft’s voting security platform operates with user-friendly principles that theoretically make deploying it a breeze.

Voters first make their selections on a touchscreen. Then, the system prints out two paper copies of their ballot. The first is placed into a ballot box to be officially counted by poll workers. Voters then take home the second copy to serve as a backup record. This page also features a QR code that can be scanned to determine whether your vote was counted after the polls close.

ElectionGuard’s two-fold approach gives voters peace of mind that their voice is being accounted for while also making it easy to spot hacks. For instance, if a breach occurred that canceled out votes for a certain candidate, voters would be able to see that their selection wasn’t counted. They could then report this to the precinct, who could investigate the situation before submitting its official results.

Although the Department of Homeland Security claims that no votes have been tampered with in the last four U.S. elections, the fact remains that voting machines are relatively easy targets for hackers. That has sparked public fear that the integrity of elections is being compromised. Officials say that those fears are perhaps more concerning than an actual cyberattack.

Microsoft’s ElectionGuard helps put them to rest and gives voters peace of mind when heading to the polls. While the system won’t be implemented in major elections this November, it may be very impactful in future races.

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