State, federal authorities end look into voting-machine ownership

In this Thursday, June 13, 2019 photo, ExpressVote XL voting machines are displayed during a demonstration at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. The machines are made by Election Systems & Software, one of three voting-machine companies that disclosed to North Carolina election officials the substantial ownership stakes held by private equity firms (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

RALEIGH — Federal authorities found nothing troubling after looking into voting-machine makers largely owned by private equity firms that don’t disclose their investors, so North Carolina elections officials said Tuesday they’re ready to certify which can do business in the state.

The State Board of Elections could decide Sunday which of three private companies meets its criteria after they disclosed their executives and equity funds as chief owners, but didn’t detail who invested in those funds. Maryland officials learned last year that a company maintaining that state’s election infrastructure was financed by a venture fund whose largest backer is a Russian oligarch.

“The Department of Homeland Security evaluated the responses for any potential national security concerns related to foreign ownership and did not identify any red flags,” state elections spokesman Pat Gannon said in an email.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman didn’t respond when asked what the agency investigated.

The private-equity backers of the three voting systems vendors seeking approval to sell to county elections boards in North Carolina told The Associated Press earlier this month that they’re controlled by U.S. citizens. They said they have no ties to foreign oligarchs or other nefarious persons facing financial sanctions by Washington. But they didn’t provide information about the sources of the money they invest.

The three companies — Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software; Boston-based Clear Ballot; and Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic — disclosed their owners after a demand by state elections officials to report who held a 5% or greater stake, or in a parent company or any subsidiaries. ES&S is now the only certified vendor in North Carolina.

The state elections board scheduled a meeting to discuss voting-machine certification for Sunday evening ahead of a conference in suburban Cary attended by hundreds of elections officials from across North Carolina.

North Carolina — the country’s ninth largest state by population — is heating up as a market for voting equipment because the state has required touchscreen-only systems to be replaced after November with equipment that produces a paper record. The change will affect machines in about a third of the state’s 100 counties.

Legislation being considered in the state’s General Assembly could delay the deadline.

Companies whose voting systems are sold in North Carolina must post a $17 million bond to cover damages resulting from the need for a new election caused by problems with the machines.