Election Offices Severing Ties With Software Firm After CEO’s Arrest

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Governments across the country are reconsidering contracts with a firm whose CEO was arrested last week on suspicion of illegally storing election workers’ personal data on servers in China.

Konnech CEO Eugene Yu was arrested on Oct. 5 near Lansing, Michigan—where his firm is based—on data theft charges lodged by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. Storing such data offshore violates its contract with the county, Gascón’s office said.

Konnech subsequently lost contracts with Detroit and Fairfax County, Virginia.

However, the elections board of DeKalb County, Georgia, voted on Oct. 10 to continue its contract with Konnech. The board’s two Democratic appointees, plus the at-large member appointed by a judge, voted first not to sever the contract and then to require the data in question be held only on the county’s servers. The two Republican appointees opposed.

The county’s information technology director assured the board that data using Microsoft Azure business software, like many other county systems, would be secure.

The board didn’t address the broader concerns that county Republican Party Chair Marci McCarthy raised in a letter read during the meeting’s public comment period.

“My grave concern is that our active account could become inactive in a single moment, and doing so during 19 days of early voting or on Election Day could cause havoc with our election operations. We would have no advance warning and no recourse,” she said.

“It comes down to the basics of who will pay the bills and what employees will continue to work as the company is in turmoil,” McCarthy said. “What happens if Konnech cannot pay its cloud hosting fees? When they can’t make payroll?”

The county also is exposing itself to financial liability if a worker damaged through a personal data breach decides to sue, she said.

Dele Lowman Smith, a Democrat who chairs DeKalb County’s five-member Board of Registration & Elections, downplayed the privacy concerns, noting that only election workers’ names, addresses, and phone numbers had been stored with Konnech.

One of the public commenters, though, said that’s damaging enough.

By Dan M. Berger

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