Montana Voting Software Linked to Chinese Data Leak Arrest
Update (Oct 14, 2022): Montana Legislators have requested that the Montana Attorney General open an investigation into Konnech and Konnech-related software applications in use by the State of Montana and a pause on any continued use of such software pending the completion of an investigation. Read more.
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 yesterday by the Los Angeles County District Attorney in connection with election worker data stored on servers in the People’s Republic of China.
Konnech distributes and sells its proprietary PollChief software, which is an election worker management system that was utilized by the county in the last California election. The software assists with poll worker assignments, communications and payroll. PollChief requires that workers submit personal identifying information, which is retained by the Konnech.
Under its $2.9 million, five-year contract with the county, Konnech was supposed to securely maintain the data and that only United States citizens and permanent residents have access to it.
District Attorney investigators found that in contradiction to the contract, information was stored on servers in the People’s Republic of China.Head of Election Worker Management Company Arrested in Connection with Theft of Personal Data. Los Angeles County District Attorney. October 4, 2022.
In early 2016, Konnech’s absentee remote mobile voting software ABVote including related mobile applications, customers and contracts, were acquired by Votem, Inc., the provider of voting software for the current version of Montana’s Electronic Absentee System (EAS). The Montana EAS allows military, overseas, and disabled Montanans to request, mark, and submit ballots through a website. 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.
The Crunchbase profile for Eugene Yu lists him as a Member of the Board of Advisors for Votem.
Konnech has had at least one contract 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.”
In 2012, then Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch submitted a technical proposal grant application to the Federal Voting Assistance Program in which she referenced the contract with Konnech for the development of the state’s Electronic Voting Support Wizard for UOCAVA voters.
The contractor on the Montana project was Eugene Yu, the CEO of Konnech, Inc., who was taken into custody on Tuesday.
Linda McCulloch now sits on the board of advisors for Let America Vote, a partisan political action committee policing election integrity laws across the country. Other advisors include Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and Clinton Attorney Marc Elias.
Yu is being held in custody in Ingham County Jail in Michigan without bond after his arraignment Thursday. Just before his arrest, Yu was on his way to the airport and had left his phone at home according to Ingham County prosecutor Nicole Matusko. Matusko suggested to Magistrate Stefani Godsey that Yu could have been evading tracking by leaving his phone at home and said Yu should be considered a flight risk.
“Mr. Yu is a significant flight risk… Has substantial ties to the country of China… His cell phone was left at his residence. Mr. Yu is the owner of a business that is technology-based. So, in our view, leaving his cell phone behind for what he said was a business trip to another state is suspicious,” Matusko argued.
Yu is awaiting a pre-trial hearing scheduled for October 25th for extradition to Los Angeles.
In the LA County DA’s press release the agency noted that the PollChief software from Konnech was the main conduit for the private election worker data that was transferred to servers in China. The PollChief website lists Montana as one of the customers of the company:
Western Montana News asked Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s office and the office of Montana Department of Justice Austin Knudsen if the state currently has any active Konnech or Votem contracts and if PollChief software is currently in use in any Montana county. WMN also asked if the DOJ was involved in any related investigations and if the SoS would halt usage of any Konnech software. An immediate response was not provided.
Election integrity organization True the Vote, which broke the news about the Chinese Communist Party connection to Konnech in August, released a statement after the LA district attorney announced the arrest.
True the Vote’s statement noted that Eugene Yu was arrested despite media campaigns to discredit their findings, including from the New York Times ”information flows” writer Stuart Thompson.
“Konnech was assisted by many reporters who unblinkingly accepted their now discredited claims as fact, and simply repeated them,” True the Vote stated.
Indeed, the only reporting in Montana from the Montana media regarding Konnech before the arrest was a smear published in Montana Public Radio from NPR Investigations team writer Tom Dreisbach. No Montana media journalist investigated the connection between Konnech and Montana voting systems.
It is not clear whether any Montana County uses PollChief to manage election staff, but it is certain that Montana uses software developed by Konnech for their military, overseas, and disabled online voting systems through the State’s business relationship with Votem and the Montana Electronic Absentee System.
If members of the Chinese Communist Party have access to poll worker private data or the private data of US military service members, overseas American citizens, and disabled persons through a backdoor provided by Konnech software, the continued usage of Konnech and Votem software in Montana elections has grave implications for the security of poll workers and elections in Montana.