The PollChief software that DeKalb agreed last month to license from Konnech, a small Michigan-based company, is aimed at helping elections staff track, schedule and pay poll workers. It has no bearing on the actual voting system and local officials have said they could not connect the two even if they wanted.
But the arrest of Konnech founder and CEO Eugene Yu — and the scant details surrounding it — present a conundrum nonetheless.
According to the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, Yu was taken into custody Monday near his firm’s headquarters. The prosecutors office said that, under its five-year contract with LA County, Konnech was “supposed to securely maintain” personal information of local poll workers and ensure that “only United States citizens and permanent residents have access to it.”
Investigators allegedly found that “in contradiction to the contract,” some information was instead being stored on servers in the People’s Republic of China.
The office of Gascón — a Democrat who in August narrowly avoided facing a recall election — later told The New York Times that investigators “had cause to believe that personal information on election workers was ‘criminally mishandled.’”
Little further insight has been provided.
The arrest, though, follows months of election deniers and conspiracy theorists, including the group known as True the Vote, targeting Yu and his company with similar allegations and claims of secret ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
Konnech has repeatedly denied those allegations, going as far as filing a lawsuit against True the Vote — which publicly claimed to have hacked Konnech’s systems and accessed the data of 2 million poll workers.
The company this week described Yu as being wrongfully detained.
DeKalb County, meanwhile, joined the handful of major American jurisdictions using Konnech’s services on Sept. 8, when it finalized a one-year contract worth $76,000.
Elections officials on Thursday told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the county was “only in the initial phase of implementation with the company” and that “all implementation activities have halted” since the news of Yu’s arrest.
The county elections board plans to hold a special-called meeting to discuss the path forward at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Early voting for November’s election — which is light on local DeKalb contests but filled with hotly contested federal and state races — begins just a week later.
Lowman Smith, the Democratic chair of a board running elections in a deep blue county, said the county’s in a bind.
She said there’s not enough “meat” coming from California prosecutors to draw concrete conclusions about the case or even the allegations. She’s also not sure it’s possible to “get enough assurances” to feel comfortable moving forward with Konnech’s software — and entering poll workers’ data into the system.
But is there enough time to pivot to something else?
“The department needs this system,” Lowman Smith said. “We didn’t do this as a nice-to-have.”
The size and complexity of elections has gotten “almost unmanageable” without specialized technology, she said. And the elections office has previously had issues getting poll workers paid on time using the county’s larger payroll system.
In a letter sent to the elections board Wednesday afternoon, DeKalb GOP chairwoman Marci McCarthy reminded members that she raised questions about Konnech — which were mostly echoes of claims by True the Vote — during their September meeting.
She called for the contract to be rescinded.
“The DeKalb Elections Office is committed to physical safety of its poll workers and election staff,” McCarthy told the AJC. “It should do the right thing and extend their cyber safety into the digital world and safeguard their personal identifiable information.”
McCarthy’s counterpart at the DeKalb Democrats, John Jackson, said he trusted that elections officials “have and will continue to do their due diligence.”
Lowman Smith stressed that the county followed procurement guidelines and sought advice from subject matter experts — including the office of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, which said it had heard good things about Konnech.
“It’s been transparent, open, everything that was supposed to happen happened,” she said. “There’s not anything that we could’ve done differently besides seeing the future.”