Senators want new laws after a Russian oligarch bought Maryland’s elections vendor
In July, the FBI alerted Maryland officials that a digital company that provides election services in the state had been purchased by a parent company connected to a Russian oligarch who’s reportedly close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Now, Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are asking the Senate Rules Committee to support an amendment that would require vendors of election services to inform lawmakers when a foreign actor takes ownership of one of their companies.
The amendment would become part of the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan measure to improve election infrastructure and protocols that the Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to consider on Wednesday.
“As the Rules Committee prepares to mark up the Secure Elections Act, we respectfully request that you sponsor an amendment requiring that an election infrastructure vendor submit a report to the Chair of the [Election Assistance Commission] and the Secretary of [the Department of Homeland Security] identifying any foreign national that directly or indirectly owns or controls the vendor, as well as any material change in ownership resulting in ownership or control by a foreign national,” Cardin and Van Hollen wrote on Monday.
The Maryland company, ByteGrid LLC, hosts the online voter registration system, candidacy and election management system, online ballot delivery system and unofficial election night results website, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. In 2015, Russian investors, including the reportedly Putin-connected billionaire Vladimir Potanin, purchased an ownership stake in ByteGrid, unbeknown to state lawmakers at the time.
ByteGrid said the move hasn’t affected company operations.
“ByteGrid’s investors have no involvement or control in company operations,” the company said in a statement. “We stand by our commitment to security in everything we do, and do not share information about who our customers are and what we do for them.”
Still, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Maryland officials decided it was “imperative that our constituents know that a Russian oligarch has purchased our election machinery, and we need to be on top of it.”
Miller and Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch have also called for a review of the state’s election systems.
“When the FBI comes in and tells you that they have information that there might be Russian money involved in the vendor you have for your electoral system, you take notice,” Busch told CNN in July.