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Election system firm with Maryland contract has ties to Russian oligarch, FBI tells state

Voting booths at the White Marsh Elementary School polling station in Mechanicsville, Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and state legislative leaders sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Secretary on Friday asking for technical assistance to evaluate the network utilized by the state’s elections board. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Top Maryland officials have asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help ensure that the state’s election system is secure after learning that a Russian-backed firm is linked to the Maryland state Board of Elections.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) sent a joint letter on Friday to Homeland Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen asking for technical assistance to evaluate the network utilized by the state board.

Miller and Busch said late Friday during a hastily called news conference in Annapolis that the FBI briefed them on the Russian investment in Maryland’s voting system. They were told there was no indication of a breach or any criminal wrongdoing.

Mueller indicts 12 Russians for hacking Democrats in 2016

“The mere fact that we have had discussions with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security, Office of Cybersecurity and Communications should provide evidence of our grave concern regarding this matter,” the joint letter from Hogan, Miller and Busch reads. “We have collectively decided that this is one of the most pressing issues that demands our attention and has therefore become our joint priority.”

The action by the Maryland lawmakers came just hours after Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the indictment charging 12 Russians of conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

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Amid concerns that Russians targeted some election websites and voting systems, several states, including Mayland, have taken steps to make their election systems more secure.

Miller and Busch said they also have asked state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to take a closer look at the state contract held since 2013 by ByteGrid LLC to determine if the state can withdraw from the deal.

In 2015, ByteGrid LLC was financed by AltPoint Capital Partners, whose fund manager is a Russian and its largest investor is a Russian oligarch named Vladimir Potanin.

The software vendor handles statewide voter registration, candidacy, the election-management system, the online ballot-delivery system and the website for unofficial election-night results.

Election officials said ByteGrid LLC has a $7.5 million, five-year contract with the state that ends in 2019.

“Even the appearance of the potential for bad actors to have any influence on our election infrastructure could undermine public trust in the integrity of our election system,” Hogan said in a statement. “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, Miller and Busch said they decided to make the information from the FBI public to inform other states about Russian involvement and to assure Maryland voters that they are working to ensure that the state’s elections are not compromised.

“We thought it was very important today for everybody here to have the information and for citizens of Maryland to have the information that the Governor, the Senate President and myself are going to be on top of this issue and make sure that the election that takes place in November is going to have the integrity that everybody expects it to have,” Busch said.

Miller said the Russian involvement was “shocking news . . . that goes to the heart of our democracy. This is the evil empire and they are at our door.”