News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
House Judiciary Committee

Microsoft's Tom Burt explaining the new software to the House Judiciary Committee.

Software to give voters some security piece of mind, but not in time for 2020

Microsoft is giving away software that it says will someday improve ballot security while allowing voters to verify that their choices have been properly recorded.

Tom Burt, a Microsoft vice president, testified before the House Judiciary Committee last week that the open-source software development kit, called ElectionGuard, is designed to be incorporated into the systems of major election equipment vendors – but probably not in time for the 2020 election.


In places where the software is used by election administrators, voters would receive a printed tracking code when they leave the polling place and could use that to later confirm, using any computer, that their votes were accurately counted once the polls closed.

At the same time, the software encrypts each ballot so that the voter would not be able to reveal his or her votes to someone else.

Burt said such a verification system, which was first demonstrated by Microsoft this summer, has never been possible before. He emphasized that the company is "not making revenue" from the effort.

Burt also said it is unlikely the system will be in use anywhere in time for the presidential election because of the lengthy and slow process new election systems must go through to earn certification from the Election Assistance Commission.

The commission is in the process of rewriting its technical guidelines for election systems. One issue that has emerged is the desire to find a way to allow for relatively minor fixes in software and other election procedures to be approved without having to go through the entire recertification process.

Microsoft also announced last week that it would provide free security updates through the end of 2020 for election systems that are still using Windows 7. Election officials across the country using Windows 7 – introduced in 2009 – had expressed alarm when the company announced that it would discontinue all support for the system in January, weeks before the Democratic primaries and caucuses get underway.

ElectionGuard and the extension of security updates for Windows 7 are part of the Defending Democracy Program created last year by Microsoft.

Another element of the program, called AccountGuard, provides free enhanced cybersecurity services for political campaigns, parties, think tanks, and democracy-related non-profits who used Office 365.

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Ballot measures are good democracy — but only if you can understand them

Marginal improvements have been made to help voters understand the questions posed to them on the ballot this November, a new study concludes, but such ballot measures still favor the college-educated — who represent a minority of the U.S. population.

This year voters in eight states will decide the fate of a collective 36 such propositions. In a study released Thursday, Ballotpedia assessed how easy it is to comprehend what each proposal would accomplish, concluding that the difficulty level had decreased compared with the referendums decided in the last off-year election of 2017 — but not by much.

In fact, according to a pair of well-established tests, 21 of the 36 ballot measures cannot be understood by the 40 percent of the voting-age population who never attended college.

Keep reading... Show less
Balance of Power
teguhjatipras/Getty Images

Two states asking Supreme Court for permission to regulate Electoral College conduct

Colorado has become the second state to ask the Supreme Court to decide if states may legally bind their presidential electors to vote for the candidate who carried their state.

The issue of so-called faithless electors is the latest aspect of an increasingly heated debate about the virtues and flaws of the Electoral College that has blossomed, especially among progressive democracy reform advocates, now that two of the past five presidential winners (Donald Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000) got to the Oval Office despite losing the national popular vote.

Keep reading... Show less