Detroit terminates contract with election software company named in data breach investigation

Konnech, based in Okemos, had worked with the city since 2008 on various poll management and logistics systems over the course of several elections.

Detroit has terminated its contract with an Okemos-based election software company after its founder was taken into custody on suspicion of poll worker data theft in California. The company had worked with the city since 2008 on various poll management and logistics systems over the course of several elections.

On Wednesday, Eugene Yu, the chief executive of Konnech, was arrested as part of a Los Angeles County-based investigation. Konnech had a five-year, $2.9 million contract with the county to administer poll worker assignments, communications and payroll. LA County prosecutors found that Konnech was storing information in China in violation of the agreement.

“Data breaches are an ongoing threat to our digital way of life,” LA District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “When we entrust a company to hold our confidential data, they must be willing and able to protect our personal identifying information from theft. Otherwise, we are all victims.”

Detroit had a similar contract with Konnech for the use of its PollChief software, which is said to have the ability to send mass letters, emails and phone calls to polling locations and record responses of election workers. The $320,000 contract, approved last year by Detroit City Council, was set to expire in June 2024. According to city and federal records, Konnech had worked with the city on several specific applications for more than a decade, including ballot “fast scanning” software and a mobile app for Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) returned ballots.

Following news of Yu’s arrest, Detroit terminated its current contract with Konnech. In a statement, City Clerk Janice Winfrey upheld the integrity of Detroit’s election process and the security of employee information.

“Our data, which is now back under our exclusive control, was housed on servers located in Lansing, Michigan. Konnech, per its contract, only provided logistical and call center support,” said Winfrey. “Out of an abundance of caution, all proper steps are being taken — including the termination of Konnech’s contract. My staff and I are confident that the 2022 election process will run smoothly delivering, after all votes have been counted, an unimpeachable work product.”

Related: Benson touts ‘smooth Election Day’ for Michigan primary

According to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, Detroit is the only Michigan municipality that contracts with Konnech. The company did not respond to WDET’s request for comment.

“Konnech operates a payroll management system for poll workers that is used by Detroit and has never had access to voter data or election data,” said Angela Benander, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “The Michigan Bureau of Elections does not contract with Konnech. Michigan elections remain secure and voters can be confident in their integrity and accuracy.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation previously named Konnech a “success story.” In November 2021, the company received a $306,000 grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund to expand and establish its headquarters in East Lansing and bring about more than 50 new jobs.

References and articles about Konnech appear to have been removed from the MEDC website, including statements from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about the company.

“Konnech’s growth is great news for our state, our families and our economy, and further underscores the competitive advantages our state has to offer growing tech businesses,” said Whitmer in a previous release obtained through an internet archive.

Konnech has been the focus of 2020 election denialists, including Michigan Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo who has highlighted Yu’s arrest on her social media channels. Karamo has repeated baseless claims made by former president Donald Trump about fake election results in Detroit, a race where President Joe Biden won 94% of the more than 250,000 ballots cast.

Photo credit: Jake Neher/WDET.

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.