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Microsoft - ElectionGuard’s innovative new uses

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ElectionGuard’s innovative new uses

Last year, we announced ElectionGuard, our free and open-source technology to make elections more secure and, for the first time, to enable people to verify their votes were counted and not altered. Since then, we’ve achieved several important milestones including the release of the ElectionGuard software on GitHub, the announcement of our bug bounty program, and a successful pilot of ElectionGuard in a real election in Wisconsin earlier this year. We believe ElectionGuard has the potential to give people greater confidence in the security, reliability and results of future elections, and we expect to soon have more updates to share about ElectionGuard’s use in traditional voting systems. Today, I’d like to share an update on some projects where ElectionGuard is already being used in a variety of innovative ways.

Risk-limiting audits

We recently worked with VotingWorks, our nonprofit partner in the Wisconsin pilot, to incorporate ElectionGuard into Arlo, VotingWorks’ open-source auditing software. Arlo was used to conduct a risk-limiting audit in Inyo County, California, following the recent 2020 U.S. general election. A risk-limiting audit is a process election officials can use in paper ballot elections to efficiently confirm that, if a full hand count were performed, the same winner would be declared. By using ElectionGuard’s encryption in the audit process, VotingWorks was able to show a direct link between the election results and the audit results without compromising voter privacy.

House Democratic Caucus leadership elections

We were pleased to work with Markup – a technology provider that serves U.S. lawmakers – on a mobile app to facilitate remote voting for leadership of the House Democratic Caucus, chaired by Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Using the app, members of the Caucus successfully voted for their Caucus and committee leadership remotely through secret ballots. Votes cast using the app were encrypted with ElectionGuard’s homomorphic encryption, and Caucus officials were able to confirm that votes were correctly tallied. This was a great example of how ElectionGuard can be used in innovative ways to ensure a secure and verifiable voting process.

How did the app work? Caucus members used iPhones – which were issued to them and managed by the House IT staff – on which the app was installed. No personal devices could be used. Members were notified when it was time to vote, and the app took them through the choices one by one. At any time before submitting their vote, members could discard their ballots and start over.

Supporting the security of global elections

We designed ElectionGuard so that it can help provide enhanced security and verifiability across a range of voting solutions. For example, ElectionGuard supports voting systems that use paper ballots as the primary way to vote, as a backup or not at all. It is up to the voting officials responsible for the safety and security of their elections to determine the right voting solution for their jurisdiction and situation.  Special circumstances, like the Covid-19 pandemic, create unique challenges for voting officials, and we believe ElectionGuard can support a range of innovative solutions that can address both long-term voter confidence in democratic elections and short-term innovative solutions that enable trustworthy voting – even in the midst of a global health crisis.

It is more challenging to secure systems that enable general-purpose voting entirely over the internet. The use of ElectionGuard in a system like this can help address some, but by no means all, of the security issues presented. There are, however, many issues a jurisdiction may choose to consider in adopting an election solution, and some democratic governments might conclude that internet voting is preferred because, for example, it enables a much greater percentage of the population to vote.

Neuvote, a Canadian company, has developed a hybrid mobile voting system in which voters connect to a remote ballot-marking device that enables them to cast and confirm a paper ballot from a smartphone or tablet while watching the process on their device. Each paper ballot cast is accompanied by an electronic vote record that Neuvote secured with ElectionGuard. Their system is designed so that the paper ballot can be tracked, audited and matched with the electronic tally. It was user tested at the recent “Future of Elections” conference in Brazil on November 15. At this event, Brazilian voters tested and provided feedback on online voting options that could potentially be deployed in future elections. How the voters and the Brazilian government react to these tests will be interesting to watch.

To note, InfernoRed has been an important partner on ElectionGuard projects, and has worked with Microsoft to support the work we’ve done with Markup and Neuvote.

The security and end-to-end verifiability of ElectionGuard presents an opportunity to provide voters with new confidence in the trustworthiness of all elections. ElectionGuard uses strong encryption to secure people’s votes and allows voters to confirm their votes were counted correctly. It also enables third parties like news organizations, political parties and third-party watchdogs to run verifiers to confirm results were accurately tabulated – all without revealing any individual’s vote. We look forward to announcing, soon, additional ways in which the voters in the US and other democracies will be provided with the voting confidence that ElectionGuard can ensure.

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