Another step in testing ElectionGuard

Wisconsin state flag

Tomorrow I’ll be in Fulton, Wisconsin, with a team of people from Microsoft taking one of many steps needed to prepare our ElectionGuard technology for broad adoption. Together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, we will be piloting ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton go to their polling place tomorrow to cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count will be tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard will also provide an encrypted digital tally of the vote that will enable voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. Tomorrow’s pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it’s used more broadly across the country.

Preparing technology for wide adoption is accomplished through incremental steps that enable iteration and improvement. We first demonstrated an implementation of ElectionGuard to cybersecurity experts and others at the annual Aspen Security Forum last summer. Then, in September, we shared the code for ElectionGuard as an open source project on GitHub so voting machine manufacturers, security researchers and others could begin testing it. We announced a bug bounty program, offering up to $15,000 to people who report security vulnerabilities with ElectionGuard so they can be fixed. The code was also tested for security vulnerabilities by NCC Group. Tomorrow’s pilot gives us the first chance to see ElectionGuard in action in a real election, to assess its performance and observe voter reaction. We hope to learn from this so we can continue to work with election officials in Wisconsin and other states – and with technology partners such as VotingWorks – to improve ElectionGuard. This is by no means the last step in our preparation; we anticipate many more pilots of ElectionGuard technology as we get it ready for prime time.

To be clear, the biggest credit for tomorrow’s pilot goes to the Wisconsin Election Commission and its Administrator Meagan Wolfe, as well as Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson for making the decision to try ElectionGuard so they can evaluate it for future use, and to VotingWorks, which designed and built much of the physical voting experience used in Fulton tomorrow. We’ve worked closely with the Commission and VotingWorks in recent months to test the system and voting machines for pilot use tomorrow, to conduct a public test of the machines even before the pilot, and to train polling place workers. We are also grateful to Connie Zimmerman, the Fulton Town Clerk, for enabling and supporting this pilot in the polling place she’s run for years, and to the Fulton Town Board, which voted to approve the pilot.

Tomorrow’s voting experience includes a three-step process. First, a voter will select candidates on a touchscreen and verify their choices. Second, the voter will print and review for accuracy a paper ballot and simultaneously receive a separate tracking code. Third, the voter will deposit their ballot into a ballot box for counting.

Behind the scenes, we will be able to tally the vote electronically, and compare the result to the official count. We will be able to test voter reaction to the great voting experience that VotingWorks has enabled using ElectionGuard. And we will be able to test, with the voters of Fulton, the verifiability of votes using ElectionGuard – which should enable voters to individually confirm that their vote was counted.

ElectionGuard, which we announced in May 2019, is open source software that will make elections more secure and end-to-end verifiable, enabling people to confirm their votes were counted and not altered and allowing news organizations or non-profits to build verifiers to confirm that election results were properly tabulated. ElectionGuard was built with the flexibility to be used in systems where paper ballots provide the primary vote count or where paper ballots are used as a backup. Additionally, ElectionGuard has been built to help ensure voting is accessible for people with disabilities and to give everyone a modern, fast and efficient voting experience.

Tomorrow’s pilot will occur at the Fulton Town office where we expect a few hundred votes to be cast. Both Microsoft and VotingWorks will have technical staff on site, and the town of Fulton has certified backup machines used in previous elections on hand should they be needed.

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