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Bipartisan bill would block foreign adversaries from owning US election vendors

Bipartisan bill would block foreign adversaries from owning US election vendors
© Anna Moneymaker

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation that would block any persons from foreign adversaries from owning or having control over vendors administering U.S. elections.

The proposed law, known as the Protect Our Elections Act, would mandate that the companies involved in administering U.S. elections reveal any foreign owners, as well as inform federal, state and local officials if there is a change in ownership or control of the company.

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Companies that fail to do so would be subject to a $100,000 fine.

The legislation comes after it was revealed earlier this year that a Russian oligarch had purchased in 2015 a software company used for some of Maryland’s voter registration system. There is no evidence that any changes were made to the system as a result.

“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,” Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (D-Md.), one of the bill's cosponsors, said in a statement. “This isn’t just a hypothetical issue — it happened right here in my home state of Maryland.”

The proposal also comes as polls show that a large majority of Americans are concerned about election security.

Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhoopi Goldberg blasts Republicans not speaking against Trump: 'This is an attempted coup' Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters MORE (R-Maine) are also cosponsoring the legislation.

“We know that the Russians were relentless in their efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections, and that those efforts are ongoing,” Collins said in a statement. “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.”

Under the bill, state and local governments would also be required to conduct annual audits of election vendors to determine that they are only owned by U.S. entities. Companies established by the U.S.’s intelligence-sharing partners known as the Five Eyes — Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — would be exempted from the rule.

This proposed legislation is one of several pieces of election security legislation under consideration by Congress.

The bipartisan Secure Elections Act, which would implement steps to protect election systems from cyberattacks, was largely viewed as the best chance for lawmakers to pass a bill on the topic. But the bill was held up in a Senate committee over the summer, and its authors say it won’t be brought up again until after November’s midterm elections.

Van Hollen also introduced legislation with Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Fla.) earlier this year aimed at deterring foreign governments from interfering in U.S. elections.