March 14, 2019
Van Hollen, Collins, Cardin, Rubio Introduce Protect Our Elections Act
Today U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Protect Our Elections Act, which would prohibit foreign adversaries from owning and controlling the companies supporting American elections. Our intelligence chiefs have made it clear that hostile foreign actors continue to work to disrupt our democratic process by any means possible. This common-sense legislation – with public disclosure and annual reporting – is essential in ensuring that our elections are free from foreign influence.
In Maryland, for example, the FBI found that a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin was heavily invested in the software vendor that maintained key parts of the state’s election infrastructure. The Department of Homeland Security found that no information was compromised, and the state has now ended its relationship with ByteGrid and is using an American-owned company that has been reviewed by federal law enforcement. But the fact remains that this should have never happened – and cannot be allowed to happen in the future.
“Our free and fair elections are central to what makes America’s democracy an example to the world. We cannot allow Russia or any other foreign adversaries to own our election systems,” said Senator Van Hollen, who has written to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review the issue in Maryland and introduced bipartisan sanctions legislation to deter future attacks on American elections. “While Maryland’s systems were ultimately not compromised, it reinforced that this is a real issue we must address. The bipartisan Protect Our Elections Act would take simple but critical steps to ensure that the nuts and bolts of our elections are secure.”
“We cannot allow the Russians or any foreign adversary to interfere with our elections, the cornerstone of our democracy,” said Senator Collins. “This commonsense bill would help strengthen the integrity of our election process and instill confidence among voters by requiring election infrastructure vendors to be owned and controlled by American citizens or our closest allies.”
“Elections are a cornerstone of the rule of law in America and foreign governments and adversaries will keep attacking our election systems and work to undermine Americans’ faith in their government and the sanctity of the results of free and fair elections,” said Senator Cardin, author of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report on Russian President Putin’s continuing assault on democratic institutions and the rule of law. He has introduced the bipartisan Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act to hold Russia accountable and strengthen America’s defenses. “All levels of government must implement immediate safeguards to preserve the security and integrity of America’s ballot box, whether it is a paper or electronic ballot.”
“The Protect our Elections Act is a common sense measure that seeks to protect our elections from foreign interference,” Senator Rubio said. “Hostile foreign actors have attempted to disrupt our electoral process and attack our democracy in the past, and our intelligence community continues to warn of this ongoing threat. This bipartisan bill would take an important step in ensuring hostile foreign entities are not able to take an ownership stake in companies that are crucial in our electoral process.”
The Protection Our Elections Act contains two central provisions:
- Mandates disclosure of foreign ownership or control: The bill requires the companies that provide elections services to report to the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, and appropriate state or local governmental entities any foreign national who owns or controls their firm. It also requires elections service providers to notify the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, and appropriate state or local governmental entities of any material change in ownership or control. It mandates a $20,000 fine for any election service provider that fails to submit the required information.
- Prohibition on foreign ownership and control of elections systems: The bill requires state and local governments to conduct an annual evaluation of their election service providers to ensure that each election service provider is solely owned and controlled by U.S. persons. The legislation includes an exception for election service providers created or organized under the laws of our Five Eyes allies – Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.