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DeKalb Elections Board votes 3-2 along party lines to keep contract with Konnech

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DeKalb Elections Board votes 3-2 along party lines to keep contract with Konnech

Carol Calvert (l) and Lisa Cottrell handle the voter registration table during a ‘Get out the Vote’ rally hosted by the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice at the ArtLot in Avondale Estates on September 19, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Elections Board on Oct. 10 voted 3-2 to keep a contract with a firm whose CEO was recently arrested.

The board voted to modify the contract to ensure poll worker data is kept on county servers.

Republican board members Nancy Jester and Anthony Lewis voted against keeping and amending the contract with Konnech. Democratic board members Dele Lowman Smith and Susan Motter voted to keep and amend the contract and were joined by at-large member Karli Swift.

Jester proposed terminating the contract with Konnech. The board voted 3-2 against it, with the votes mirroring the votes to keep and amend the contract.

Konnech CEO Eugene Yu came under fire last week after his arrest for stealing the personal information of hundreds of poll workers. The company was supposed to store that data in the United States but stored it on servers in China, the Associated Press reported.

DeKalb County Elections Board discussed a contract with Konnech at the August retreat, which was finalized on Sept. 8 to help VRE streamline processes for poll worker management, inventory management and training.

The contract was signed by Keisha Smith, executive director of DeKalb Voter Registration and Elections.

Konnech was contracted to provide a software solution, said Erik Burton, president of Profile Marketing and Public Relations. In the proposal, Konnech offered a menu of options. However, DeKalb VRE only engaged the company for poll worker management, inventory management and training, Burton said.

Smith said that poll worker data maintained by Konnech includes names and addresses, data anyone can easily obtain.

“At this point, the only information the election staff have entered into the system is the name, address and phone numbers of the poll workers,” Smith said. “It’s publicly available information. It’s something that can be easily procured for anyone on this call within minutes.”

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Motter said “allegations are just that” when explaining why she chose to keep the contract with Konnech. She also was concerned about anti-Asian sentiment around the issue, she said. Motter’s mother is from Japan, the AJC reported.

Marci McCarthy, chair of the county GOP, publicly urged the Elections Board to terminate the contract.

“It is our hope that DeKalb County adds its name to Konnech’s former client list, ensures the cyber safety of our poll workers, focuses its efforts on delivering a successful midterm election that everyone can trust,” McCarthy wrote in an email to the Elections Board.

Following the Oct. 10 Elections Board meeting, the DeKalb County department of Voter Registration and Elections published the following press release:

Following a special-called meeting on October 10, the DeKalb BRE took additional measures to secure poll worker data in connection with Konnech Inc. PollChief. The emergency meeting had been convened following the arrest of Eugene Yu, the CEO of Konnech by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and allegations that L.A. County poll workers’ data had been stored on a server in China, in violation of their contract with Konnech.

In order to ensure the security of DeKalb County poll workers’ data, the DeKalb BRE voted 3-2 to amend its licensing, maintenance, and support agreement with Konnech. An initial vote to terminate the contract with Konnech outright failed 2-3. The result of the vote is that the Board will pursue amendment of the contract to ensure that all data will be maintained in a DeKalb County-controlled Microsoft Azure Government tenant rather than on Konnech servers.  Additional security measures will include geofencing barriers preventing data ingress and egress as well as 24/7 monitored access control and logging. This means that the data used in the PollChief system may not be surreptitiously accessed, removed, or manipulated.

“Our foremost concern is that poll workers have peace of mind knowing that their private data will be safeguarded on a secure government server. Our poll workers are essential partners in running an election, and VRE team members will continue to streamline our administrative processes to ensure they are paid timely and receive the training and communication they need to fulfill their duties,” said VRE Executive Director Keisha Smith.

During the special-called meeting, Smith and various board members reiterated that the Konnech PollChief system is purely an administrative tool that does not house any voter information and has no connection to or impact on the outcome of the election. Additionally, there will be no integrations or access allowed between PollChief and other DeKalb County systems.

According to Dele Lowman Smith, DeKalb BRE Chair, “The Board’s action today is intended to eliminate potential concerns about the security of our poll workers’ data while ensuring the department can maintain its focus on election preparations. There remain many unanswered questions surrounding the allegations against Mr. Yu, and a majority of the Board favored a deliberate, surgical response based on the facts available to us. We continue to monitor developments in this matter and are prepared to take further action if warranted.”

DeKalb VRE will employ 1,700-1,800 poll workers for the General Election. Advance voting begins on October 17, and Election Day is November 8.

Logan C. Ritchie contributed to this story. 

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