Microsoft System Would Allow Voters To Track Their Vote, Can't Promise It Will Be Hack-Proof


Microsoft executives announced Monday that they are teaming up with the technology company Galois to develop a software that would allow voters to track their vote, and see when it is counted.

The announcement comes close on the heels of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation report last month.

Despite not turning up evidence of alleged Trump campaign efforts to conspire with Russian agents to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, Mueller’s report does indicate that there is definitive evidence of Russian interference and hacking during the election cycle.

In development to improve confidence in elections, according to NPR, Microsoft executives say ElectionGuard would encrypt election data to not only allow voters to track their vote, but also aid election officials in detecting tampering, hacking and interference.

Joe Hall, a chief technologist at the non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology, told NPR the idea is for the system to function similarly to modern package- and food-delivery tracking technologies.

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Individual voters would receive their own unique code, allowing them to “track the ballot as it goes through the entire process.”

“It’s very much like the cybersecurity version of a tamper-proof bottle,” Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president of customer security and trust, told NPR.

Microsoft also says the software will remain open-source, with election technology developers and sellers free to employ it in their future election systems and voting machines.

Burt also said, however, that the software — which is set to be piloted in the 2020 presidential election — will not prevent hacking or interference, only detect it.

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“Tamper-proof bottles don’t prevent any hack of the contents of the bottle, but it makes it harder, and it definitely reveals when the tampering has occurred,” Burt told NPR.

According to NPR, Galois, based in Portland, Oregon, initially partnered with Microsoft to develop the software with grant money secured from the United States Department of Defense.

Joe Kiniry, a scientist at Galois, also indicated that the purpose of the product is primarily to alert officials who use weak systems to possible interference.

“It gives the ability to double-check, even if the system is terribly written,” Kiniry told NPR. “Even if it’s hackable, it gets detected.”

And the system is not a cure-all, he said.

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“It’s not magic pixie dust. We need this, plus unhackable systems,” he said.

While Burt told NPR he sees the system being used only on a “pilot project” basis 2020, he’s looking for “broad deployment” by 2024.

Regardless of possible concerns about an inability to stop potential interference attempts, however, several development companies and universities are already partnering with Microsoft for a chance to use the software in their development of new voting systems.

Columbia in New York City is one of them.

“Columbia World Projects will partner with @Microsoft to pilot ElectionGuard technology, a free open-source software development kit, aimed at improving the security of elections,” Columbia wrote in a Twitter post Monday announcing its partnership with Microsoft.

“A lot of polls have been taken over the last few years that suggest that a majority of the country did not have confidence that, in fact, votes would be counted and counted accurately,” Avril Haines, a senior researcher at Columbia World Projects, said in a video accompanying the tweet.

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Andrew J. Sciascia was the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal. Having joined up as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, he went on to cover the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for the outlet, regularly co-hosting its video podcast, "WJ Live," as well.
Andrew J. Sciascia was the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal and regularly co-hosted the outlet's video podcast, "WJ Live."

Sciascia first joined up with The Western Journal as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, before graduating with a degree in criminal justice and political science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and worked briefly as a political operative with the Massachusetts Republican Party.

He covered the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for The Western Journal. His work has also appeared in The Daily Caller.