The contractor that provides a wide array of computer and web services to the Maryland Board of Elections sought to offer assurance Monday that its Russian-backed investors play no role in the company’s operations. The statement came just days after the state’s top leaders expressed concerns about the firm’s parent company.In a statement provided to Maryland Matters, Annie Eissler, chief marketing officer for ByteGrid Holdings LLC, wrote, “[our] investors have no involvement or control in company operations.”On Thursday, four FBI agents met in Annapolis with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the state’s legislative leaders to discuss ByteGrid’s parent company, Altpoint Capital.Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., left, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland Board of Elections at a Friday press conference.At a press conference one day later, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) told reporters, “One of the major investors in [Altpoint] is a Russian oligarch named Vladimir Potanin. He is one of the leading investors, an oligarch, that goes back to the 1990s and is very close to the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.”State leaders stressed the FBI did not suggest that the state’s voting rolls or machinery had been tampered with in any way, though they expressed a degree of alarm nonetheless.“This is the evil empire,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said. “And they are at our door when they invest in our election process.”Monday’s statement from ByteGrid, in addition to underscoring the firm’s independence from Altpoint, also spotlighted its offerings in the web hosting realm.“ByteGrid Holdings LLC maintains secure and compliant IT hosting infrastructure for companies and organizations that value data privacy and protection. We stand by our commitment to security in everything we do, and do not share information about who our customers are and what we do for them,” reads the statement.The statement continues: “Because it is a government contract, information related to our relationship with the Maryland State Board of Elections is publicly available and we encourage you to read the publicly available documents. ByteGrid is managed and run by seasoned Internet and IT industry leaders.”Hogan, Miller and Busch — stressing their bipartisan cooperation in a matter of intense sensitivity — have requested help from the federal government in making sure Maryland’s statewide elections, now less than four months away, go smoothly and that public confidence in the system is maintained.“As an immediate step, [we] have written a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to collectively request that the DHS Office of Cybersecurity and Communications provide the state with technical assistance to evaluate the network utilized by the Maryland State Board of Elections, including auditing the integrity of the network,” Hogan said.“We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the coming days and weeks to ensure that all Maryland voters can have faith in the integrity of our election system,” he continued.Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is also investigating the state’s contract with ByteGrid, to see what options the Board of Elections might have. Changing vendors this close to an election would seem impossible and unwise, observers said.ByteGrid “hosts the statewide voter registration, candidacy and election management system, the online voter registration system, online ballot delivery system, and unofficial election night results website,” the agency said Friday.In 2015, ByteGrid purchased Sidus, an Anne Arundel firm with whom the state had contracted two years prior.ByteGrid was subsequently taken over by Altpoint, but state officials said they didn’t become aware of the firm’s Kremlin-linked backers until the FBI came calling last week. “Nobody knew the background of this company, nobody knew that [the head of the firm] was a Russian, nobody know that the person had changed their name — until [Thursday] when the four [agents] from the FBI indicated that this is public information, that it’s on the internet,” Miller said Friday.On Monday, Hogan was asked if there was a “missed opportunity” to delve more deeply into the contractor’s ties.“This just came up for the first time last week,” he said at a press conference where he announced measures to reduce student debt. “It was an investment made into a hedge fund that invested in a company that then bought another company that then bought the group that has the contract.”“We’ve been assured, at this point, that there’s redundancy of checks and balances, that nothing untoward has happened. … But in an abundance of caution we reached out to the Homeland Security secretary to say we want them to come in and do a thorough analysis,” Hogan said.[email protected]
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, Va. He’s a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.