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Microsoft Election Technology Debuts In 2020 Wisconsin Primary
Microsoft’s ElectionGuard and other technologies use encryption, blockchain, and paper trails to bring confidence to voters eager to know that their vote counts.
When an election results app failed to work on the night of the Iowa caucuses, it threw the Democratic party into disarray. Days later, candidates continued to question and criticize the results.
As political intrigue swirls around the sanctity and integrity of the U.S. elections, Microsoft is stepping up with a new technology designed to uses technology … and an old-school solution in tandem.
What Is Microsoft ElectionGuard?
Microsoft announced ElectionGuard, an open-source solution for voting machines. Here’s how it works.
A voter selects who they are voting for via a touchscreen. When the voter finishes voting, the machine generates two documents with the voter’s selections. The voter can review the selections and submit one document to election station workers.
The voter can keep the second document, which includes a QR code that the voter can scan to confirm that the machine cast their vote.
The challenge with any election technology is that no solution is entirely safe. The ElectionGuard technology means potential hacks are detected quickly, not in days, weeks, or months when reversing election errors becomes increasingly daunting.
Among the technologies embedded in the solution are:
- End-to-end verification. Older voting machine solutions and punch cards could not verify that a vote was counted. ElectionGuard makes it easier to confirm if the information is correct.
- Encryption. Each vote with ElectionGuard has unique encryption, meaning a hacker would need to get past encryption for every vote they wanted to alter. Once a vote is counted, the encryption changes. This system helps to flag suspicious activity early.
ElectionGuard is not used to count votes, but to verify that one’s votes are recorded. The company is offering the software for free.
Where is ElectionGuard Being Used?
ElectionGuard is being used for the Wisconsin primaries on April 7, 2020. It was tested in the town of Fulton, Wisconsin, during local elections in February 2020.
That test was intended to work out any bugs in a smaller community (Fulton has a population of 3,257). Microsoft is hopeful it will be used in more 2020 elections but is targeting the 2022 midterms for widespread adoption.
The State of Election Security
The 2016 U.S. presidential elections continue to be a lightning rod for criticism and skepticism regarding election security. While Congress continues to show partisan divides on several issues, it did authorize $425 million in funding for states to improve their election security. The money comes via the Help America Vote Act, which was enacted on the heels of the Bush-Gore contested race in 2000.
Lawmakers also passed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which has a focus on election security.
States are moving forward with various solutions, several of which rely, as does ElectionGuard, on audit trails and paper back-ups. Fewer states are expected to use voting machines in 2020 that do not produce a paper trail than were in use in 2016.
The Iowa debacle has cast a spotlight once again on the critical challenges of election tech.
“What happened in Iowa highlights how the introduction of new technology and insufficient back-up procedures can disrupt the voting process. It also raises new concerns about the best way to ensure the security and integrity of elections,” notes a recent Vox article.
What Other Election Technologies Are in Play for the 2020 Presidential Elections?
There are several technologies in play for the 2020 elections, including:
- Electronic poll-books, which are electronic versions of voter rolls, can help process voters more quickly and provide faster, more reliable data on voting
- Increased use of electronic voting, such as is the case with West Virginia, which recently expanded its digital voting options to include those with physical disabilities
- The use of blockchain and biometrics technologies. The startup Voatz has a tool that lets voters verify their identity using a picture of a government ID, fingerprint scan, and facial recognition. It is used to enable voting, not to count votes
- Amazon technologies are now used by 40 states to manage state and county election websites, manage voting by overseas military personnel, store voter registration rolls, and ballot information, and deliver live election-night results.
Whether newer technologies can eradicate election fraud remains to be seen. In the meantime, any new technologies are likely to continue to draw scrutiny and debate.
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