The Michigan-based election software company Konnech filed a defamation lawsuit against the Texas-based group True the Vote in September. True the Vote had accused the company of being both "owned by the Chinese Communist Party" and involved in "subversion of our elections." Konnech denied the allegations, though its credibility is now in doubt.
On October 4, Konnech CEO Eugene Yu, who lived in China until 1986, was arrested on suspicion of data theft, having allegedly stored "critical information that [U.S. election] workers provided on servers in China."
Prosecutor Eric Neff suggested that the crimes allegedly committed by Konnech and Yu amounted to the "largest data breach in United States history."
Yu was charged again last week for grand theft by embezzlement of funds exceeding $2.6 million.
In addition to Yu's arrest and the recent charges claiming his company stored sensitive American data on servers under the "superadministration" of Chinese contractors in a hostile nation, Konnech's alleged connections to Chinese election firms have also come under scrutiny.
A new investigative report — part of an ongoing series of deep dives by Kanekoa News on Substack — detailed the links between a purportedly defunct Chinese-based Konnech subsidiary and major CCP-controlled telecoms designated as "national security threats" by the Federal Communications Commission.
'China's national conditions'
The criminal complaint filed by Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón's office on October 13 claimed that from October 10, 2019, through October 4, 2022, Yu and other employees at Konnech were providing election software solutions to Los Angeles County "using third-party contractors based in China."
Luis Nabergoi, project manager for Konnech's contract with Los Angeles County, confirmed on August 18 that "any employee for Chinese contractors working on PollChief software had 'superadministration' privileges for all PollChief clients," which constituted a "huge security issue."
Kanekoa pointed out that while prosecutors referenced "Chinese contractors" and "third-party software developers," they did not mention Konnech's Chinese subsidiary.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that "Konnech once owned Jinhua Yulian Network Technology, a subsidiary out of China, where programmers developed and tested software." Konnech reportedly "closed the subsidiary in 2021 and no longer has employees in China."
Yu reportedly created Jinhua Yulian Network Technology on November 29, 2005. The Konnech CEO registered the subsidiary's website "yu-lian.cn" to email@example.com on in February 2006.
Despite its characterization by Konnech and the New York Times as a subsidiary just testing software with "dummy data," the Jinhua Yulian Network Technology "About Us" page, archived December 7, 2013, tells a different story.
Its website (yu-lian.cn) stated Jinhua Yulian Software "has been focusing on providing election management software and election consulting services in line with China's national conditions."
According to Kanekoa, Jinhua Yulian Network Technology bid on Chinese communist government contracts to provide "electronic voting systems" as recently as 2018.
Kanekoa reported that Konnech's Chinese connections did not end there.
"Patent transfers, employee profiles, and domain registrations divulge that Konnech is also profoundly connected to another Chinese software firm named Jinhua Hongzheng Technology," which has partnered with numerous Chinese telecom giants with state ties, including Huawei, China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile.
Earlier this year, the FCC deemed China Mobile and China Telecom "a threat to national security." Huawei and China Unicom have similarly been identified as service-providers posing "an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of United States persons."
According to Kanekoa, Jinhua Hongzheng Technology "is the premier voting technology provider for China's National People's Congress."
Konnech CEO Eugene Yu allegedly registered "hongzhengtech.cn" for Hongzheng Technology to firstname.lastname@example.org on July 31, 2015, giving Konnech control over Hongzheng's website.
Cause for concern
This is not the first time that Konnech's links have been raised as a matter of concern in the Anglosphere.
In July 2020, the issue of Konnech's Chinese ties was raised in the parliament of Queensland, Australia.
One parliamentarian asked about Konnech's "connection to the Chinese Communist Party through its China-based subsidiary Jinhua Konnech Inc.," only to be reassured that "recent media reports claiming that offshore coders are able to access sensitive electoral roll data are false."
Kaneokoa indicated it was within the realm of possibility that "Chinese election software companies linked to the Chinese government embed malicious spyware into election software to be rebranded by an American subsidiary and sold in the United States."
"It is not beyond the capabilities of 'Chinese contractors' linked to China's National People's Congress to deeply embed malicious spyware into seemingly harmless software that silently infiltrates, monitors, captures, and sends stolen data back to its developers," Kanekoa added.
Former CIA operations officer Sam Faddis noted that the "superadministration" access allegedly given by Konnech to third-party Chinese contractors would enable them to "do effectively anything inside that system. He or she can delete data, steal data, alter data, change programming, etc."
Faddis indicated "that individual can cover his or her tracks, because they can potentially also access and alter all security protocol and programs."
According to Konnech's website, it has 32 clients in North America.
A number of counties and municipalities have ceased using Konnech's PollChief software and ended their contracts with the company, including:
- Fairfax County, Virginia. The Fairfax County Office of Elections announced it has "ceased its use of PollChief election officer management software used in Fairfax County, and is ending its contract with the software’s developer, Konnech." The office's director of elections, Eric Spicer, noted that Fairfax County "has never used software from this company to collect or store sensitive personal information such as social security numbers or banking information."
- Detroit, Michigan. Detroit ended its $320,000 contract with Konnech, which had been approved last year by the Detroit City Council. The city worked with Konnech on several bespoke applications, including ballot "fast scanning" software and a mobile app for Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act returned ballots.
- Loudoun County, Virginia. WSHU reported that elections officials "did eventually decide to stop using Konnech software as a preventative measure." The county secured its poll worker data from Konnech and determined to use different systems this fall.
- Prince William County, Virginia. Prince William County announced on October 7, "Effective this week, we have suspended using PollChief and are erasing any data contained on their server to avoid any further issues."
Some cities and counties continue working with Konnech and using its software, notwithstanding concerns about malfeasance and exposure, including:
- Allen County, Indiana. Amy Scrogham, the director of the Allen County Election Board, announced on Tuesday that Allen County will maintain its relationship with Konnech, at least through Election Day, but will afterward "review it and see what our best options are." In an October 18 release obtained by TheBlaze, the Allen County Election Board indicated that the "database maintained by Konnech does not contain confidential information related to poll workers" and that Konnech does not store Allen County voter information."
- DeKalb County, Georgia. On October 10, the DeKalb Board of Registration and Elections held a special meeting and voted 3-2 in favor of maintain its contract with Konnech. The vote was decided along party lines with only Republicans dissenting.
- Alameda County, California. According to the Mercury News, Alameda County only uses the software for ballot box tracking and will continue to do so unabated.
- Contra Costa County, California. Helen Nolan, assistant registrar in Contra Costa County, cited assurances from Konnech that the county's data was being stored in Michigan — a promise that the Los Angeles district attorney's office indicated may have been violated. Contra Costa will keep its relationship with Konnech.
- San Francisco County, California. According to John Arntz, director of San Francisco elections, PollChief is only used to track warehouse inventory. The county also reportedly uses PollChief for payroll and will continue to use the software.
- Los Angeles County, California. LAC told TheBlaze that "Konnech has affirmed their compliance with the contract and at this time, no information has been provided to the Department confirming storage of data outside the United States or specific information as to what data is associated with the allegations. Absent confirmation and/or additional information specific to the County's data, use of the application has continued with security oversight and contract monitoring to ensure against disruption to the current election."
TheBlaze reached out for comment to Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services to ascertain whether, further to its October 7 statement noting concern about accusations of "inappropriate handling of personal identifying information," any action has been taken concerning its contract with Konnech or use of PollChief election software. A spokesman from the city reiterated that "the City has no reason to believe its poll worker data is involved."
The Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services spokesman added, "The purpose of the contract with Konnech Inc., is to provide the City of Minneapolis with an election worker management system (PollChief) for the purpose of election judge and polling place management."
TheBlaze also reached out to the Milwaukee Election Commission, which reportedly entered into a $111,500 contract with Konnech in August to provide its PollChief software to the city. The MEC has yet to reply.
Santa Clara County, California, signed a contract with Konnech in June, but the technology has not yet been implemented. The Mercury News noted that the county is "reviewing the situation for appropriate action."