Microsoft announced an ambitious effort it said will make voting secure, verifiable and more transparent with open-source software. Two of the three top U.S elections vendors have expressed interest in potentially incorporating the software into their voting systems.
The software kit is being developed with Galois, an Oregon-based company separately creating a secure voting system prototype under contract with the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, DARPA.
Dubbed “ElectionGuard,” the Microsoft kit will be available beginning this summer, the company said, with early prototypes ready to pilot for next year’s general elections. The initiative was announced Monday by CEO Satya Nadella at a developer’s conference in Seattle.
He said it would provide “the software stack that can modernize all of the election infrastructure everywhere in the world.”
Three little-known U.S. companies control about 90 percent of the market for election equipment, but have long faced criticism for poor security, antiquated technology and insufficient transparency around their proprietary, black-box voting systems. They are Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska; Dominion Voting Systems of Denver and Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas.
ES&S and Hart InterCivic both expressed interest in partnering with Microsoft for ElectionGuard. A spokeswoman for Dominion said the company looks forward to “learning more” about the initiative.
Microsoft officials said the ElectionGuard development kit will be provided free of charge as part of its Defending Democracy Program. They also announced a cut-rate Office 365 application suite for political parties and campaigns at a 75 percent discount, the price they charge nonprofits. Both Microsoft and Google provide anti-phishing email support for campaigns.
ElectionGuard is designed to work as a standalone product or alongside existing election systems, said Josh Benaloh, a senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research and key contributor to the ElectionGuard project. “It can be used with a ballot-marking device. It can be used with an optical scanner, on hand-marked paper ballots.”