As state and federal officials tackle the issue of election meddling, tech companies are trying to come up with ways to increase election security in America. Microsoft's ballot-tracking tool for the 2020 elections would give American voters the power to see if their votes were indeed counted, NPR reported on Monday. In a press release on the same day, the company announced that the software would help American elections become more verifiable, secure, and interference-free.
According to the outlet, it's an open-source software development kit known as the ElectionGuard, meaning that the original code for the software is open to anyone who would like to use it. NPR reported that Microsoft collaborated with the computer technology company Galois, and that the free-of-charge modern software development kit is a set of tools and sample code accessible to election technology vendors.
The software uses encryption methods to give voters information on whether their vote was confirmed and made it to the election offices, according to NPR. It also would give election officials the opportunity to ensure that there was no tampering with the votes by activating tools like "election verifiers" that show if the votes were counted, according to Microsoft's press release.
If this all sounds a little vague, it may help to think of it through an analogy like the one vice president of Microsoft's customer security and trust operations, Tom Burt, gave to NPR on Monday. "It's very much like the cybersecurity version of a tamper-proof bottle," Burt said to the outlet. "Tamper-proof bottles don't prevent any hack of the contents of the bottle, but it makes it makes it harder, and it definitely reveals when the tampering has occurred."
The software kit will become available to any vendor online in the summer on the web service building platform GitHub, according to Microsoft's release on Monday. The company didn't provide a specific date for the software's release. In the company's press release on Monday, Burt stated that purpose of ElectionGuard was to give voters and election officials "end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allow individual voters to confirm their votes."
It's worth noting the idea is not to replace paper ballots, according to Burt, but to "supplement and improve systems that rely on them." Burt also noted that ElectionGuard is "not designed to support" voting online. "In short, ElectionGuard is a new tool for use by the existing election community and government entities that run elections," Burt wrote in the press release.
The news of ElectionGuard's development and how it could potentially improve security for American elections comes just a few weeks after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's federal Russia investigation. The report concluded that while there was no collaboration between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign team and Russia, Russian officials still attempted to influence the outcome of the American elections.
With the help of ElectionGuard, American voters will have the chance not only to confirm their vote but also track and even print their ballot's official record. Microsoft announced on Monday that after voters make their decision, they will be given tools called "trackers" that can confirm and verify their votes for them.
While interference and meddling remain troubling issues for election officials, tools like this one from Microsoft could just help strengthen accountability in voting — and, as a result, inspire voter confidence.