Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot on Wednesday grilled the administrator of Maryland’s elections — after problems on Election Day in November caused polls to stay open late and postponed the release of results for hours.
The Maryland State Board of Elections did not post election results online on Election Day until after 10 p.m. — two hours after polls were scheduled to close in the state. Hogan said he and many others were frustrated they had to wait for hours for the results to be announced.
“This was a black eye for Maryland around the country,” Franchot told Maryland elections administrator Linda H. Lamone, who appeared before the spending panel.
“They were making fun of us on the national television about how bad the Maryland election was being administered,” Hogan said. “You are the Maryland state election administrator.”
“Indeed, I am,” replied Lamone, who has served in the role since 1997.
Lamone told the board members polls stayed open late in November because some voters were still casting ballots after waiting in long lines amid high turnout. Lamone said some polling stations in Prince George's County were short on paper ballots because local elections administrators hadn’t properly distributed ballots.
She noted local boards were independent entities from the state.
“You’re going to have to take some responsibility to hold them accountable,” Hogan told her.
“I can tell them what to do all I want to,” Lamone replied. “I have no control.”
The grilling came as the spending panel was hearing testimony on the status of Maryland’s elections data.
Lamone said this week that a new firm had taken ownership of hosting Maryland’s elections data after a federal investigation into the Russian ties of the previous vendor.
The state will use Intelishift, a Virginia-based data center, and its subsidiary, The Sidus Group, through Dec. 31, she said.
The Sidus Group was previously a unit of ByteGrid LLC. The FBI revealed in July that ByteGrid was connected to Vladimir Potanin, a wealthy ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Potanin is an investor in a private equity firm, Altpoint Capital of Greenwich, Connecticut, that bought an ownership stake in ByteGrid in 2011.
ByteGrid — through The Sidus Group — hosted Maryland’s online voter services, election-night website and voter registration, candidacy and election management systems.
ByteGrid has insisted that its investors “have no involvement or control in company operations.”
After an investigation last year, state and federal authorities said they were confident Maryland’s voting system was well fortified against cyberthreats from foreign nations. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote in a letter in the fall that its agents had “found no evidence of an adversary presence” in Maryland’s network.
“Needless to say, all of us were alarmed and concerned this was able to occur,” Hogan said Wednesday.
He and Franchot asked staff to begin drafting regulations requiring state vendors to disclose whenever a foreign national has purchased an ownership stake in a state contractor.
“I hope any Russian-linked firm in the future would somehow be identified to us,” Franchot said. “These folks are using our own systems to disrupt us.”
Last year, the news of the Russian ties to Maryland’s election system was announced as the U.S. 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.