Amid all of the controversy surrounding the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, news from Maryland suggests the matter is far from resolved. Maryland’s elections are run by a vendor that has recently been bought by a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin and the Kremlin. The acquisition has election watchers across the country on edge.
The FBI met with state officials on Friday and informed them of the development. Shortly after, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch spoke to the public at a news conference.
“The FBI conveyed to us that there is no criminal activity that they’ve seen,” Busch said. “They believe that the system that we have has not been breached.”
State lawmakers are asking for help assessing the state of their electoral process. “In a letter Friday, Hogan, Busch and Miller asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for technical assistance to evaluate the network used by the elections board,” The Daily Mail writes.
“It is with concern that I learned that information provided to the Maryland State Board of Elections by federal law enforcement this week indicates that a vendor contracted by the Board to provide a number of services, including voter registration infrastructure, had been acquired by a parent company with financial ties to a Russian national,” Hogan said.
ByteGrid LLC, the company in question, is financed by AltPoint Capital Partners. Their fund manager is Russian. The largest investor is Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin who has ties to the Kremlin. The sale was made in 2015 without the knowledge of state officials.
ByteGrid is trying to downplay the sale. They released a statement Friday that noted “ByteGrid’s investors have no involvement or control in company operations.”
“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.”
Critics question why ByteGrid would even be a target for acquisition. The company handles “statewide voter registration, candidacy, and election management system; the online voter registration system; online ballot delivery system; and unofficial election night results website,” DM notes.
To date, the FBI has not revealed any questionable activity from ByteGrid. Yet the knowledge that the Russians own a state electoral system could, the FBI surmises, undermine the trust of Maryland’s citizens.
“That is why it is imperative that the State Board of Elections take immediate and comprehensive action to evaluate the security of our system and take any and all necessary steps to address any vulnerabilities,” Hogan said.
Miller is intent on maintaining the public trust. It is, he said, “imperative that our constituents know that a Russian oligarch has purchased our election machinery, and we need to be on top of it.”
“[The FBI] weren’t really anxious for us to come forward, but after today we felt we had an obligation to share it with you and share it with our constituents that this has occurred and we want the public to know this as well,” Miller said.
Despite these assurances, Maryland has had its fair share of issues. The Department of Homeland Security listed Maryland as a state that showed suspicious online activity before the 2016 election. And a “voter registration error at the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration that created the potential for tens of thousands of voters to require provisional ballots in last month’s primary,” DM adds.
The FBI’s investigation continues. Maryland officials have begun their own inquiries, too.