Microsoft tested a new technology, known as ElectionGuard, at an election this past Tuesday in Fulton, Wisconsin, reported CNN. The voting software is intended to make it harder for hackers to break into the system and tamper with elections.
Instead of using paper ballots, the technology requires voters to make their selection on a digital tablet. They load the selection onto a plastic card equipped with a memory chip that is then inserted into a card reader. The votes are uploaded and saved to a computer before being printed out onto a paper copy and placed in the ballot box.
The technology uses a new form of encryption to secure and save votes and then tally them immediately. ElectionGuard is part of a project called Defending Democracy, which came about after Russia was found to have intervened in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, the American voting system has been under close scrutiny.
Microsoft tested the technology on a small population of 400 people in the Wisconsin town after a different digital system, which came out shortly before the Iowa caucuses, was revealed to be a disaster.
After ElectionGuard was proven successful in the Fulton election, Microsoft is hopeful that the technology will be widely adopted by the 2024 presidential election.
Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for consumer security and trust, commented on ElectionGuard, and the company’s mission in developing it.
“When we saw what happened in 2016, the efforts that were made by foreign adversaries to actually influence the voting process in the United States, we concluded we had a responsibility as a technology leader to see what Microsoft could contribute to improving the safety and security of our elections.”
Microsoft has also made the software’s code free and publicly accessible.
While the tech company is taking steps to make the U.S. voting system more stable, top security experts agree that a completely unhackable system is unrealistic, if not impossible. However, ElectionGuard makes meddling in the votes more difficult and problematic for hackers.
In order for a hacker to influence the results for a certain candidate, they would have to decrypt each vote first. ElectionGuard uses a “homomorphic encryption,” which encrypts each vote individually. This system makes it possible for votes to be tallied without needing to decrypt individual ballots. Additionally, the computer that performs the mathematical equations to add up the votes is not connected to the internet.
Microsoft hopes that even if hackers attempt to tamper with the voting results, the new technology will make it pointless for them to even try.