First major voting vendor, Hart InterCivic, partners with Microsoft on ambitious software security tool ElectionGuard

A voter casts a ballot at a voting machine at a polling station at Cheyenne High School on Election Day on November 8, 2016 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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The ElectionGuard technology that Microsoft touts as a way to make elections more secure and verifiable is taking its biggest step yet: Hart InterCivic, one of the big three election vendors, says it will incorporate ElectionGuard into one of its voting systems.

The ElectionGuard open-source software development kit gives voters a unique code to track their encrypted vote and confirm it wasn’t manipulated, and it offers a way for third parties to validate election results, according to Microsoft. The two companies jointly announced the partnership on Thursday.

Hart InterCivic is the biggest partner to date for ElectionGuard, as one of three vendors — alongside Election Systems & Software and Dominion Voting Systems — that dominate the marketplace for voting machine technology.

“We believe we must constantly re-imagine how technology can make voting more secure and also more transparent, and this partnership with Microsoft is a strong step in that direction,” said Hart InterCivic CEO Julie Mathis. “The combination of Hart voting machines with ElectionGuard technology delivering end-to-end verifiability provides election officials the ability to offer more transparency to the process of vote tabulation.”

Some details for how the pilot program will work remain unsettled, however. While Hart InterCivic will test ElectionGuard in its Verity system used by more than 500 jurisdictions in 17 states, Hart is still in the process of identifying at least one county to initiate the pilot, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. The timing for when the test would begin also hasn’t been locked down, either.

Recent elections have thrust voting machine security into the spotlight, with the 2020 race placing voting vendors — especially Dominion — at the center of unsubstantiated claims from then-President Donald Trump and his allies that the election was rigged against him. The ElectionGuard announcement comes as the GOP continues to revisit the accuracy of the 2020 results, with a review in Arizona proving particularly controversial.

Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University and election security expert, noted that Hart InterCivic is the smallest of the big three election vendors.

“This is them trying to make some waves, and that’s good,” he said. “You can’t talk about voting machine security without talking about the fake news Dominion disaster of November 2020. And so you could interpret this as them trying to get way out ahead of that, potentially.”

In an interview with CyberScoop this year, Microsoft’s Tom Burt advertised ElectionGuard as a bulwark against election conspiracy theories. Wallach — whose work contributed to the development of ElectionGuard — said expecting technology to counter misinformation might be a steep climb. ElectionGuard provides evidence about voting, but it’s less certain whether anyone’s willing to embrace it, he said.

“There are a lot of people who will stand behind what the math does and doesn’t prove,” Wallach said. “Now, in the face of misinformation, what’s a mathematical proof? This is a question to which I don’t have a good answer.”

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Dominion Voting Systems, election security, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, Microsoft, voting systems
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