Maryland lawmakers have introduced two U.S. House bills seeking to better safeguard election systems following the disclosure that a state election software vendor had ties to a Russian investor.
A measure by Democratic Rep. John Delaney and Republican Rep. Andy Harris would mandate that vendors associated with federal elections be owned and controlled by U.S. companies.
The legislation follows last week’s disclosure by state legislative leaders in Annapolis that, without the state’s knowledge, a Russian investor had bought a local software vendor that maintains part of the State Board of Elections’ voter registration system.
“What’s happened in Maryland is very alarming and demands a legislative response,” Delaney said in a written statement. “We have to take concrete steps to protect our elections infrastructure, because the integrity of the system is essential to the integrity of our democracy. Importantly, this is a bipartisan bill and I appreciate Congressman Harris’s partnership and understanding that this is bigger than politics.”
General Assembly leaders asked Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to investigate the contract, and requested that federal officials help the elections board review the system to ensure that there have been no breaches.
The vendor, ByteGrid LLC, says the investor has no access to Maryland’s voting system.
All of the members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote a letter Thursday to the Department of Homeland Security to reinforce the state’s request on July 13 for technical assistance to review the state’s electoral systems.
“Specifically, DHS can help assist the State of Maryland in evaluating network security, auditing network integrity, and providing additional support and services deemed necessary and appropriate by the Maryland State Board of Elections,” the letter said.
Delaney’s and Harris’ bipartisan bill would take effect in 2020 and create a database to make it easier to establish that an election vendor is not foreign-controlled.
A similar measure was filed Thursday by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County and other Democrats from Maryland and other states. Raskin and two co-sponsors, Pennsylvania’s Robert Brady and California’s Zoe Lofgren, are members of the House Administration Committee, which oversees federal elections.
Raskin’s legislation, effective this year, would bar states from entering agreements with election vendors “controlled by persons who are not citizens, nationals, or permanent residents of the United States.”
It will be up to the House to determine whether one of the bills advances to a floor vote.
Last week’s news about the Maryland vendor came hours after the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, charging that they hacked the computer networks of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The indictment alleged that an unnamed congressional candidate sought and received information on their political opponent from Russian intelligence officials.
Maryland Reps. John Sarbanes and Elijah Cummings joined other Democrats on Thursday in asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to refer the matter to the Federal Election Commission. Cummings is the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Sarbanes heads the Democracy Reform Task Force, a government accountability group.
The letter said the candidate’s request could violate campaign finance laws. “Prohibitions on election activity by foreign nationals are essential to the very idea of self-government,” the letter said.