Maryland Investigates Election Security and Links to Russian Oligarch

By Robert Velazquez

Maryland officials announced Friday that a company who owns Maryland State election data servers was bought by a company with ties to a Russian oligarch who is a known associate to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The conference which was delivered in an off the cuff manner states, on Thursday four FBI agents informed Maryland officials that a company contracted by MD Board of Elections, ByteGrid LLC, has ties to a Russian Oligarch. The original 2013 contract was signed for election data hosting (which includes voter registration data, candidacy, election management, election night results), with a Maryland-owned company named Cytis. Later, Cytis and the existing contract was purchased in 2015 by ByteGrid LLC.

The capital investment funding the purchase, Altpoint, was founded by Russian born and raised individual, Guerman Aliev, who later changed his named to Gerald T. Banks. The majority investor into Altpoint, Vladimir Potanin, was named in the press conference.

Potanin acquired his wealth by gaining stake in Norilsk Nickel during Russia’s privatization in 1995 and even served as Deputy Prime Minister of Russia from 96’-97’. Potanin, was recognized on the U.S. Treasury’s “Putin List”, as a known associate of the Russian President. A 1997 Bloomberg article goes so far as to call Potanin, “The Most Powerful Man in Russia”. At one point, he boasted along with five other Oligarchs of accounting for 50 percent of the Russian economy.

House Speaker, Michael Busch, said that FBI officials have no evidence to believe that Maryland elections were tampered with. Governor Hogan and state legislators reached out to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, to review the existing contract to insure there are no discrepancies that would affect the Maryland electoral process. Hogan goes on to ask for a security evaluation of the network used by the State Board of Elections.

Senator Chris Van Hollen weighed in on twitter. “While there is no evidence that this has impacted Maryland elections to date, this news is deeply disturbing, and underscores the need for urgent action to prevent election interference—which Trump continues to ignore.”

This news came hours after an indictment on 12 Russian intelligence officers, by the office of Special Counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. While the indictment makes no mention of the Maryland State Board of Elections, the indictment does include allegations of a Twitter account, @BaltimoreIsWhr, in which Russian conspirators encouraged U.S. citizens to “[j]oin our flash mob” opposing the Clinton campaign and to post images with the hashtag #BlacksAgainstHillary in the wake of the 2015 Baltimore PD Protests. The attack does show that Baltimore was a target in the 2016 Russian campaign to influence American votes.

Maryland Senate President, Mike Miller, concluded his comments stating that this meeting was for “the sake of other states and counties that could have been affected as well.” He continued to urge Maryland voters that officials will continue to work towards a fair election in November 2018.

Jealous Calls on Hogan to Oppose Kavanaugh Nomination

By Robert Velazquez

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Annapolis, MD – Democratic candidate Ben Jealous joined members of the democratic delegation of Maryland in calling for Governor Larry Hogan to publicly oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In a public statement, Governor Hogan said fighting back against Kavanaugh’s nomination is a “Washington issue,” not a “Maryland issue.” Jealous states, “Governor Hogan attempts to draw distinctions between Maryland and national issues.”

Jealous and the delegation stated in a recent press conference that Kavanaugh’s history of anti-choice, anti-environment and anti-worker legislation and writings are a direct threat to the rights of all citizens of Maryland.

Joseline Peña-Melnyk, Maryland State Delegate, says that Hogan’s refusal to take a hardline stance on the Kavanaugh nomination is a direct threat to the female reproductive rights of the women who make up 51.5% of the population of Maryland.

Environmental activist, Scott Edwards, goes on to add that “the last thing we need is an environmental obstructionist like Kavanaugh.” Kavanaugh has a history of fighting EPA regulations which include a dissent on the EPA’s “Clean Power Act” in 2014. He states in his dissent, that the EPA must consider the costs of cleanup in addition to the environmental benefits. Edwards ultimate concern is that Kavanaugh’s legislation will roll back years of progress made in Maryland for corporate interest, and ultimately delay the national need to address climate change.

Vice president of the DMV chapter of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Jaime Contreras, urges Hogan that he is complicit in the economic hardships the union members represented within the SEIU if he does not take action on this matter. Unions or organized labor groups have already felt the impact of conservative court on the recent Janus ruling; which is a major blow to union revenues and has been argued as a death knell to public-sector unions.

Betty Weller, President of the Maryland State Education Association, calls for a fair-minded constitutionalist instead of Kavanaugh. Weller argues that she can’t count on Washington to make decisions in the best interest of Maryland’s school system. Furthermore, she argues that Hogan did not stand up to Washington when he welcomed Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, to Maryland. She went on to argue that remaining silent on the nomination of Kavanaugh could be a potential blow to the Maryland Education system.

Jealous closed the conference stating that Governor Hogan has aided and abetted president Trump’s administration by remaining silent on issues that matter. Evoking the names and agendas of Scott Pruitt, Betsy Devos, and Jeff Sessions as a direct threat to the rights and well-being of Marylanders. More so, Jealous will not allow an excessively cautious Hogan to hide or sit this fight out. “What does he do with his popularity to help people?” Jealous asks. To Jealous, all politics are local. His hardline stance on Kavanaugh is the acceptance that his appointment would change the lives of Marylanders for a generation to come.

 

Photo Credit to Rebecca Lessner of MarylandReporter.com

The Campaign of a Lifetime

Ben Jealous Wins the Democratic Primary

By Robert Velazquez

Ben Jealous has won the primary battle but he has not yet won the war. The former CEO and President of the NAACP is deeply entrenched in the progressive ideals that made the Bernie Sanders campaign so successful. His opponent, Governor Larry Hogan, is enjoying a 75% approval rating with both democratic and republican support represented in that figure. Hogan released his own video “Introducing Ben Jealous” to the average Maryland voter. The video shows Jealous in the light of a “Tax Crazy” candidate hell bent on idealistic policy reform. Hogan may be right, but Jealous puts his knowledge and experience where his mouth is.

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Jealous’ healthcare proposal, “State-based Medicare for All”, has been shown to fail in the state of Vermont. When pressed about this on an NPR interview, Jealous points out the fact that Maryland has almost 10 times the population than that of Vermont and a much stronger economy by comparison. He goes on to argue that state’s rights often lead the way to national policies and he seems eager to have Maryland pave the way.

Jealous goes even further to say that he is not only willing to take on health care but also taking on education reform, ending mass incarceration, a $15 minimum wage and ending the student debt crisis. If this sounds a bit like he is biting off more than he can chew, he urges voters to look to his accomplishments as NAACP president, where he was able to lead an effort to abolish the death penalty in Maryland; helping pass marriage equality, chairing the effort to pass the DREAM act and expanding voting rights.

Jealous does not seem to care for the idea that these are democrat issues. In his eyes, they are human issues that affect all Marylanders. He’s not running to the left or to the right but towards the people of Maryland.

With endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris (all potential presidential contenders for 2020) and even comedian Dave Chappelle; Jealous is shaking the foundation of the Maryland gubernatorial race.

Though they are not the same, the New York congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shows promise of a progressive wave overtaking comfortable incumbents. Many political analysts have argued that she’s the right candidate for her district and not a sign of political tides changing. Alternatively, Connor Lamb, a democrat from of Pennsylvania’s 18th district won his race on a moderate democratic platform. Whatever his approach, the Jealous campaign has a potentially large impact on presidential campaign strategies in 2020.

The real question is whether a Jealous administration would be the right fit for the people of Maryland or will his moderate republican opponent prevail? If we are to take his words to heart, “I have the vision, the plans, the experience and unlike Hogan, the courage to risk my own political standing for progress.” The man means business and it’s going to be a hell of a race to watch.

 

Photo Credit to Gage Skidmore