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.

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