Three of the Bay Area’s largest counties will continue to use polling station software that was ensnared in a Los Angeles data breach investigation and in at least four other elections jurisdictions ditching the software amid allegations of embezzlement and Chinese data sharing.
Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties all use the PollChief software – produced by the company Konnech – to manage poll worker schedules and track voting equipment, but not to tabulate votes. Unlike Los Angeles, local elections officials in Contra Costa and San Francisco say sensitive data on election workers was never shared with Konnech and they are confident that other polling station information stored on Konnech servers was kept within the United States. Alameda County did not return multiple requests for comments.
Last week, prosecutors in Los Angeles accused Konnecch CEO Eugene Yu of storing the personal data of thousands of Los Angeles election workers on servers in China, where it was accessed by Chinese contractors.
One Konnech project manager called the situation a “huge security issue,” according to the criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles. Prosecutors said Yu violated Konnech’s agreement to store data in the United States thereby embezzling public funds.
An attorney for Yu, who was released on bail, denied the allegations saying they are based on “discredited election deniers,” according to a National Public Radio report, which added that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office launched the probe after a tip from Gregg Phillips, a leading election conspiracy theorist.
The criminal investigation has sent election officials around the country scrambling to reassure voters amid heightened scrutiny of election administration spurred by false claims that voter fraud cost President Donald Trump his reelection bid in 2020. Under California legislation signed into law last month, election workers can now hide their home addresses from the public amid concerns of harassment and threats driven by election fraud claims.
Just weeks ahead of the November general elections, Bay Area election clerks on Monday sought to reassure voters that their continued use of PollChief poses no security risks to election workers’ private information or voters’ ballots. Officials cautioned that the software plays no role in scanning ballots or vote tabulation and the Los Angeles district attorney emphasized that the PollChief has had “no impact” on election results in Southern California.
But as local officials continue to use the PollChief software, at least four other jurisdictions around the country have halted use of the software. Detroit’s election chief told the radio station WDET the city is no longer using PollChief “out of an abundance of caution.” Even election administrators that did not use Konnech’s election software have issued news releases seeking to calm voters’ worries and clarify their relationship with the company.
In the Bay Area, elections officials are reluctant to ditch the software, which provides key logistical support for poll station management. Among the uses are scheduling poll workers at voting locations, sending communications to poll workers, and tracking voting equipment and supplies.
Election clerks in Contra Costa and San Francisco counties said unlike Los Angeles, they do not use the software for payroll, which would require them to store the private identification information of poll workers using the Konnech servers. Alameda County appears to only use the software for ballot box tracking, according to a 2022 poll worker manual.
“We’ve protected our poll workers. We’re not concerned that our poll workers’ data has been breached or shared,” said Helen Nolan, an assistant registrar in Contra Costa County. She said the county’s IT department reviewed their servers to ensure there was no data breach and they have also received assurances from Konnech that Contra Costa data is being stored in Michigan, as required under the company’s contract with the county.
John Arntz, director of San Francisco elections, said PollChief is used only to track warehouse inventory and there is “no information indicating our warehouse inventory is being stored on a server in China.”
San Mateo County does not use the software. Santa Clara County inked a contract with Konnech in June, but South Bay officials were not planning to implement the technology until after the November general election, the registrar’s office said, adding that the county is currently “reviewing the situation for appropriate action.”
Nolan said Konnech has provided “services without a problem for us since 2018,” and at the moment there is not “enough information or evidence to warrant canceling a contract.”
“If people hear elections, and they’re concerned – we’re managing the poll worker system in one (system) and we’re monitoring it,” said Nolan. “But our votes and our ballots and our tabulations are still and will remain safe, secure, and totally transparent in our reporting.”
Konnech’s website said the company has 32 clients in North America.