Politics

A Russian Oligarch Bought Maryland’s Election Vendor. Now These Senators Are Questioning the Rules

Letter to Rules Committee follows request to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin

Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Benjamin L. Cardin are concerned about Russian ownership of a Maryland election contractor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Maryland’s Democratic senators want a Senate committee to require disclosures of foreign investments in U.S. election systems, an alarm bell set off by a Russian oligarch’s connection to their state’s voter registration system. 

The request to the Rules and Administration Committee comes from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen. Van Hollen is also the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Maryland senators have been alarmed by a Russian oligarch’s investment connection to ByteGrid LLC, which handles the Old Line State’s voter registration database and candidate management operations.

“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 Monday.

The letter, directed at Rules Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri and ranking member Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, comes ahead of a markup that is scheduled for Wednesday on improving physical election systems, including the promotion of verifiable paper trails.

“We also recently asked Treasury Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin to review the acquisition of ByteGrid in his role as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,” the Maryland Democrats wrote. “While we are hopeful that the Treasury Department’s review will be able to provide additional information about this specific transaction, we are concerned about the implications of this case for elections across the country.”

The request to review the ByteGrid case through the CFIUS process came in an Aug. 7 letter to the Treasury.

“Currently, CFIUS is authorized to review foreign investments in U.S. companies that result in foreign control of the company. If an investment poses a threat to national security, it can be blocked,” the senators wrote in the letter to Mnuchin. “If either AltPoint Capital or ByteGrid did not file a notice with CFIUS, the Committee has the ability to look back at any completed transaction that results in control and threatens national security and take steps to address the national security threat, including requiring divestment.”

Vladimir Potanin, the largest single investor in AltPoint, is among the richest men in Russia. He has appeared on a Treasury Department list of Russian oligarchs. Maryland officials were reportedly informed of the transaction in July, by the FBI.

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