Strange Bedfellows in Maryland’s Congressional Delegation | WYPR

Strange Bedfellows in Maryland’s Congressional Delegation

Jul 23, 2018

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Reps. Andy Harris and John Delaney
Credit Official Portraits

While Republicans and Democrats in Washington continue to snipe at each other over what the president did or didn’t say, or whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, recent events have led two Maryland lawmakers to reach across the partisan divide.

It was a little more than a week ago that the FBI told Maryland officials that a Russian-backed firm owns the servers where much of the state’s election data is stored. John Delaney, a Democratic Congressman from Montgomery County, says that felt like a punch to the gut.

 “I mean I was outraged that we’re so incompetent, like so incredibly incompetent,” he fumed. “As someone who’s spent my career in the private sector, when I would do business with someone and it was a substantial business relationship, I would try to figure them out. Who they are, what they’re motivations are, who owns them.”

The announcement brought Delaney together with Andy Harris, Maryland’s lone Republican in Congress who called President Donald Trump’s appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin “a successful summit.”

“The fact that it had to be uncovered in a federal investigation, we’re not paying attention to who actually owns the people we contract with is pretty interesting,” Harris said.

 

So, Delaney and Harris introduced a bill last week that would make it extremely hard for foreign countries to win contracts for vital components of U-S elections. Harris says it’s a simple proposal.

 

“Just in general, Americans should be in charge of the American voting system,” he explained. That way we can be pretty certain that we minimize the risk of foreign interference.”

 

He said that might not eliminate the risk of foreign interference, “but that would minimize it.”

 

Delaney says they were spurred to act so quickly because of the ease with which a foreign entity became a key player in Maryland elections seemingly without any officials knowing it.   

“What brought it about obviously is what happened in Maryland,” he said.

 “Where we realized that a company that controls a huge percentage of our voting records was controlled by a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin and the person who runs the company had changed their name to kind of hide their identity.”

Delaney says there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“My view is the government’s really failed on so many levels because of partisanship, that we don’t do anything,” he sasid.

“So I think a pretty obvious thing for the government to do in light of  the fact that so many of our election systems are automated and technology based was to make sure that we have better transparency as to who owns and controls these companies because they become a little bit of a black box. And we haven’t done it.”

On the other side of the Capitol, another bipartisan effort on election security is picking up steam, this one sponsored by Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen and Florida Republican Marco Rubio. According to Van Hollen the bill basically says that if Russians are caught interfering in the 2018 elections or future elections automatic and very deep sanctions would be triggered.

 

“The whole idea is to send a clear message to President Putin that the costs of interfering in our elections are very high and outweigh any benefit he might think he’s gonna gain from interfering,” Van Hollen said.

 

He said he thinks the bill has a good chance to become law, especially after many in the GOP criticized President Trump for his performance in the press conference after the summit with Putin.

 

“Well there’s growing momentum to make sure we take action to deter Russian interference in the 2018 elections and elections going forward,” Van Hollen said. “So, we have a growing number of people, of Republicans and Democrats on the bill.”

 

There’s still no vote scheduled for any bills related to election security or Russian sanctions, but supporters are vowing to pressure GOP leaders until they bring legislation to the floor to address some – if not – all of the glaring deficiencies in the U-S electoral system.