Microsoft has announced an ambitious effort that says it will make voting safe, verifiable and subject to reliable audits. Two of the top three voters in the United States have expressed interest in incorporating open source software into their patented voting systems.
The software kit is being developed with Galois, an Oregon based company that separately creates a prototype secure voting system under contract with the Pentagon's advanced research agency, DARPA.
Dubbed "ElectionGuard," the Microsoft kit will be available this summer, the company says, with the first prototypes ready to attend next year's general election. CEO Satya Nadella announced the initiative on Monday at a developer conference in Seattle.
Nadella said the project software, provided free of charge as part of the Microsoft Democracy Ombudsman Program, would help "modernize the entire electoral infrastructure around the world." Microsoft also announced a reduced fee Office 365 application package for political parties and What Charges Nonprofits campaigns. Both Microsoft and Google provide anti-phishing email support for campaigns.
Three little-known US companies control about 90 percent of the voting equipment market, but have long faced criticism for lack of security, outdated technology, and insufficient transparency around their patented black box voting systems. Open source software is inherently safer because the underlying code is easily examined by external security experts.
Two of the leading suppliers, Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Nebraska and Hart InterCivic, of Austin, Texas, have expressed interest in partnering with Microsoft for ElectionGuard. A spokeswoman for a third-party provider, Dominion Voting Systems of Denver, said the company hopes to "learn more" about the initiative.
Anyone with an existing voting system or who is developing a new system can incorporate the ElectionGuard development kit at the state or local level in the US. UU Or national to jurisdictions abroad.
"It can be used with a Voting Marking Device," said Josh Benaloh, senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research and a senior contributor to the ElectionGuard project.
Benaloh helped produce a report by the National Academy of Sciences last year that called for an urgent review of the US electoral system, which faced serious threats from Russian hackers who in 2016 tried to infiltrate electoral management systems in several states.
In that report it was requested that all elections in the USA. They will be held in human readable paper banknotes by 2020. He also advocated a specific form of routine post-election audits to ensure that votes are counted accurately. While US officials say there is no evidence that hackers alter election results, experts say the systems used by millions of US voters remain susceptible to manipulation.
One voter who has been in informal negotiations with the leaders of the ElectionGuard project is Dean Logan, who leads the nation's most populous Los Angeles County elections, and is creating an open-source voting system for him.
Election campaigner Susan Greenhalgh of the National Coalition for the Defense of Elections said she hoped the bill would encourage innovative thinking at the level where elections are actually run.
The ElectionGuard intends to provide "end-to-end" verification of the vote in two ways, Benaloh said. First, it allows voters to confirm that their votes are accurately recorded.
Secondly, the only encrypted tracker that produces an encrypted version of the ballot that keeps the election of the ballot secret, ensuring that votes are counted accurately. External agents such as electoral control groups, political parties, journalists and voters themselves can check online that votes have been counted correctly without being changed.
The system would also allow for reliable audits and counts after the election. Microsoft executives say they also plan to build a prototype voting system as a benchmark.
A Galois spin-off called Free & Fair developed the sophisticated post-election audits, known as "limiting" audits, for Colorado, which was the first state in the United States. In requiring the audits recommended in the report of the National Academy of Sciences.
ElectionGuard is not designed to work with Internet voting schemes, which experts find it too easy to hack, and it does not currently work on voting by mail systems.
ES & S told the Associated Press via e-mail that it was excited to partner with Microsoft and was "still exploring potential" to incorporate the software kit into its voting systems.
Hart InterCivic, the No. 3 provider, said it planned a pilot project with Microsoft to "incorporate ElectionGuard functionality as an additional feature" layered on its core platform.
A Dominion spokeswoman, No. 2 provider, said: "We are very interested in learning more about the initiative and being able to review the different prototypes being planned, as well as hear more about other efforts supported by the federal government in the electoral space ". . . "
Edgardo Cortés, a former Virginia electoral commissioner who now works at the Brennan Center at New York University, has welcomed additional private sector support for electoral systems.
"I think it will take a while to understand and see just how beneficial (ElectionGuard) ends up being," he said. "But I think it certainly has great potential."
Columbia University will partner with Microsoft to audit the drivers.