At a time when big tech increasingly faces scrutiny for compromising democracy, rather than protecting it, Microsoft
The Breakdown You Need To Know: Election season is an exciting time for most Americans, but CultureBanx found that this time of year also brings voter suppression by way of lost votes, missing records and in some cases, mass confusion. Especially, when you consider the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report from last year that stated Black voters were the single largest demographic target of Russian trolls during the 2016 presidential election. Perhaps this is why only 55.7% of Americans voted in the 2016 election, a 20-year low. Bloomberg reported that voting machines can be compromised with little effort due to minimal governmental regulation. The outlet found that it happened on election day November 5, 2019 in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Also, it’s a bigger business than most realize, as the machines bring in $300 million in annual revenue.
Microsoft’s ElectionGuard fix entails instead of using paper ballots, voters would make their selections on digital tablets. CNN reported the information is then loaded onto plastic cards outfitted with memory chips, and inserted into a card reader that saves the votes to a computer. Last but not least it’s then printed onto a paper copy so that each ballot can be easily placed in a ballot box. Voters are able to log-in after the fact to make sure their vote was accounted for.
The main pros of ElectionGuard include a new form of encryption to secure votes and tally them in minutes. The system is not unhackable, in fact it’s only designed to make it harder for hackers, by immediately showing the system has obviously been tampered with. Votes themselves are encrypted, so that nobody can see how an individual voted.
Free Election Security?: It’s important to note the biggest problem is finding a way to secure the many parts of the election system, which can vary widely across the country. Different jurisdiction’s throughout the country, often down to the county level, can choose their own voting mechanism. Fortunately, Microsoft’s software code is free and available to the public. The company said ElectionGuard will work with any voting system.
Another problem with the current voting system is that half of U.S. votes are made on machines manufactured by ES&S, the largest manufacturer of voting machines in the country. They operate in 4,500 localities, 42 states and two U.S. territories. ES&S has managed to maintain control of its dominant market share. Since it often takes more than $1 million to get certified as a voting machine manufacturer, and Pro Publica reported ES&S routinely sues its competitors, innovative new businesses are unlikely to enter the ring. The company told CultureBanx they have “been in many discussions with Microsoft, exploring how to incorporate its technology.”
What’s Next: Microsoft hopes ElectionGuard will be widely adopted by the 2024 presidential election, even though they don’t expect it to be a major revenue driver for the company. They’re also fully aware it won’t be used during this presidential election.
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