Today U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) 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. In Maryland, for example, the FBI announced in July that a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin was heavily invested in the software vendor that maintains key parts of the state’s election infrastructure. This common-sense legislation – with public disclosure and annual reporting – is essential in ensuring that our elections are free from foreign influence.
“Elections are a cornerstone of the rule of law in America and foreign governments will continue to attempt to attack our election systems and work to undermine Americans’ faith in their government and the sanctity of the results of a free and fair election contest,” said Senator Cardin. “All levels of government must therefore implement immediate safeguards to preserve the security and integrity of America’s ballot box, whether it is a paper or electronic ballot.”
“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. This isn’t just a hypothetical issue – it happened right here in my home state of Maryland,” 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. “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 know that the Russians were relentless in their efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections, and that those efforts are ongoing,” said Senator Collins. “The Protect Our Elections Act 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. The need to act is urgent, and I encourage our colleagues to support this commonsense legislation.”
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 $10,000 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.