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Microsoft offers free system to let voters ensure their votes are counted

Ballot box
Photo: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Microsoft announced 2 new elections tools Monday, including a free, open source system allowing voters to be sure their votes were accurately counted.

Why it matters: "This will allow citizens and officials to be confident the votes have not been hacked," said Tom Burt, corporate vice president for security and trust at Microsoft.

Details: The voter auditing system, called ElectionGuard, was developed with the security firm Galois, and uses what's known as homomorphic encryption to protect voter information while allowing voters to check it.

  • Homomorphic encryption allows computers to process information without ever decrypting it, meaning that a ballot would stay private even from the computers used to collect it.
  • "The voter gets a tracker that they will be able to enter later to see that their vote was correctly recorded and counted," said Burt.
  • And the system as a whole would allow third parties to tally votes on their own, ensuring there wasn't a miscalculation.

The odds: The difference between ElectionGuard being a useful tool and a neat thought experiment is whether election infrastructure vendors implement the program. While the finalized system won't be released until summer, said Burt, several vendors (Democracy Live, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, BPro, MicroVote, and VotingWorks) have publicly expressed interest.

A second new offering will be an enterprise class platform for campaigns at non-profit pricing with simplified configurations for campaigns.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Microsoft had announced 3 new election tools, not 2.