Members of the Montana Legislature have signed a letter asking the Attorney General to conduct an investigation into Konnech, an elections software company that developed and operated the state’s online voting portal for military and overseas citizen voters, called the Montana Electronic Absentee System (EAS). The company’s ties with Montana go as far back as 2010. The legislators also asked that the AG notify the Secretary of State and each County Attorney to halt use of the software pending completion of an investigation.
Montana voting software that allows military, overseas citizens, and disabled persons to request, mark, and submit their ballot online was developed by Konnech Corporation, an elections software company whose CEO, Eugene Yu, was arrested recently by the Los Angeles County District Attorney in connection with election worker data stored on servers in the People’s Republic of China. One of our vital roles as legislators is protecting the security and integrity of our elections. This indictment and the continued use of software from Konnech has grave implications for the security of poll workers and elections in Montana[…] We are asking your office to immediately open up an investigation if it hasn’t already done so. Given the proximity to the ongoing 2022 general election, we also respectfully ask that you promptly notify the Montana Secretary of State and each County Attorney in Montana that the software should not be used until the investigation is completed.Montana Legislators letter to AG. October 13, 2022
The letter to AG Austin Knudsen was signed by State Senator Theresa Manzella, Rep. Brad Tschida (HD-97), Rep. Bob Phalen (HD-36), Rep. Jerry Schillinger (HD-37), Rep. Paul Fielder (HD-13), Rep. Steven Galloway (HD-24), and Rep. Steven Gunderson (HD-1). The legislators transmitted the letter to the Attorney General on Thursday.
Konnech CEO Eugene Yu was extradited from Michigan and arraigned in Los Angeles Friday. According to charging documents, prosecutors charged Yu with two felonies including one count of felony conspiracy to commit a crime and one count of felony grand theft embezzlement of public funds. The documents note that Yu conspired with other persons in the conduct of the crime. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Yu to remain in home confinement in LA and post a bond of $500,000.
In the legislator’s letter to the AG, they noted that Konnech has had agreements with the State of Montana going back to at least 2010.
As mentioned, to our knowledge and per the attached material, Konnech has had at least one contract and a direct connection with the State Montana as far back as 2010, according to a Blanket Purchase Agreement funded by the Department of Defense. The award paid $91,617 to Konnech, Inc. for “RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT FOR AN ON-LINE WIZARD PROVIDING ABSENTEE VOTING CAPABILITY FOR THE STATE OF MONTANA.”Montana Legislators letter to AG. October 13, 2022
The origins of the Montana EAS are outlined in a 2012 technical proposal grant application submitted by then Secretary of State Linda McCulloch to the Federal Voting Assistance Program. In the proposal, McCulloch mentions the development of the beta version of the EAS known as the Montana Electronic Voting Support Wizard (EVSW) in collaboration with Konnech, Inc. The grant proposal lists Eugene Yu as the primary contractor on the project.
Legislators also noted that their research revealed that other election software companies that Montana uses are connected to Konnech and should also be investigated.
This includes anyone closely associated with Konnech, or anyone using Konnech developed technology and systems, which is referenced in our attached research materials.Montana Legislators letter to AG. October 13, 2022
The research materials, provided to legislators by Western Montana News and Montana Broadcasting Radio Group, LLC, showed that the software used for the current version of the Montana EAS voting portal is administered by a company called Votem Corp, another election software company with Eugene Yu on the Board of Advisors.
In early 2016, Konnech’s absentee remote mobile voting software ABVote including related mobile applications, customers and contracts, were acquired by Votem. Votem administers the software under the name “CastIron” for North American-based customers while Konnech handles customers internationally.
In a February 2016 press release announcing the acquisition, Votem CEO Peter Martin welcomed a long-term partnership with Konnech and praised Eugene Yu’s deployment of Konnech’s ABVote software in Montana:
Pete Martin, CEO of Votem, stated, “We are so pleased to add the ABVote product line as a complement to our Mobile Voting Platform (MVP)™. Eugene Yu and his team have built outstanding products for the mobile and online voting space. Even more importantly, they have given care and attention in deploying them at jurisdictions such as the State of Montana and Washington, DC so Votem benefits from now having an end-to-end mobile voting product line as well as a larger satisfied customer base. Eugene and Konnech are well respected in this industry and we look forward to continuing our partnership with them well into the future.”Votem Corp announces the acquisiton of the mobile voting business from Michigan-based Konnech Inc. February 15, 2016.
In an October 7th email obtained by WMN, Montana Secretary of State Communications Director Richie Mebly stated that the Secretary of State’s office “does not have a contract with Konnech, Inc.”
WMN submitted a Montana Public Records Act request to the Secretary of State’s Office Thursday for any previous contracts with Konnech and any current or past contracts with Votem.
The legislators also noted that an affiliate of Konnech in China has been using The Great Seal of the State of Montana in promotional marketing, perhaps in violation of the law.
Our own research also indicates that Konnech is using The Great Seal of the State of Montana as part of its commercial promotions and advertising. We are curious whether they were given permission to do so when former SOS McCulloch entered into a relationship with them or at anytime subsequent to those events. If not, we believe such use is improper and prohibited.Montana Legislators letter to AG. October 13, 2022
The company in question, Jinhua Hongzheng Technology Co., Ltd, is Chinese company that “focuses on providing software products and overall solutions related to elections, voting and voting for domestic government organs at all levels, CPPCC [Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference]” according to an announcement for the company on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
In the announcement, the company’s “predecessor” was named as “Konnech., Ltd.” and described as a company founded in 2005 that does “software offshoring services for more than a decade,” listing the State of Montana as a client.
The company’s domain was registered in 2015 with the “Registrant Contact Email” listed as “[email protected]”.
Read the legislator’s letter to the AG here.
View the attached research materials here.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.