TALLAHASSEE — An unemployed Naples 20-year-old was arrested Tuesday after allegedly using his PC notebook to change Gov. Ron DeSantis' voter registration address from the governor’s mansion to a condominium in West Palm Beach.
Anthony Guevara also attempted to get into the voting registrations of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, retired basketball icon Michael Jordan and current basketball icon LeBron James, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said. Only the governor’s information was altered, the agency said.
"This is not a hard thing to do, but there are pretty severe penalties for doing this,'' said Mark Earley, supervisor of elections for Leon County.
He said Guevara likely had access to that information on DeSantis from publicly-available sources and, by using it to modify the governor’s information, it “absolutely was not hacking.”
Guevara now faces one count of unauthorized access of a computer and one count of altering a voter registration without consent. He is being held in Collier County jail on $5,000 bond and, if convicted, faces up to five years in prison.
"There was a minimal amount of inconvenience. Certainly there was a concern,'' Earley told reporters Wednesday. “We did an address change there on the spot to come back into his proper address so that his registration reflected his proper address, and he was able to vote in normal manner.”
Address changes are routine and designed for voter convenience, he said, especially in a college town where people move in and out of town frequently.
"We do this hundreds of times a week, especially during early voting and even on Election Day,'' he said. The governor received “no different treatment.”
But the event, coming in the midst of a bitterly fought presidential election season when President Donald Trump and his supporters have raised the specter of voter fraud, may have exacerbated already frayed tensions.
"For election officials, I think that anything like this is just another kick to the confidence of our voting system and that, to us, that is a nuisance because nothing was hacked, nothing was breached,'' said Trish Robertson, a spokeswoman with the Collier County Supervisor of Elections office. “This guy just happened to find the public information that is out there and had the touch to do this, did it and got caught.”
What happened at the polling place
On Monday, DeSantis arrived at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee to cast his vote, but when the clerk looked him up, they told him he was no longer listed as a Leon County resident. Instead, his address was that of a one-floor rowhouse-style condominium on Pretty Lane in an unincorporated area of Palm Beach County.
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A witness who watched the exchange said that the clerk did not recognize DeSantis at first, and told him that their records showed he had changed his address the previous week. The governor responded that he moved to Leon County two years ago and had voted there in the last two elections.
The clerk quipped, “Do you happen to have any friends in Russia?”
DeSantis looked befuddled, said the witness, who asked not to be identified. He then provided proof of his current address, which lists the governor’s mansion.
In most counties, voters who want to change their voting address can make the switch by inputting their full name, address and birth date into an online portal managed by the county where they live.
"What is abnormal is for that change to be done fraudulently,'' Earley said.
Under Florida law, voters may register to vote online and they also can use the system to update their voter registration information but it is a third-degree felony punishable up to five years in jail to fraudulently submit the information.
Robertson, of Collier County, emphasized that the stunt did not prevent DeSantis from voting, and noted that voters who show up at the polls and do not have the correct address on their voting file won’t be prevented from voting, either.
The fix requires election staff to do a statewide search for the voters' record and a verification that the voter is eligible to vote, she said. Then, once the information is verified, election staff can pull the voters' information into the county’s voter registration system.
"We have good safeguards to prevent this from being a large-scale endeavor,'' Earley said.
Police track the computer trail
To find Guevara, state investigators backtracked through the web logs at the Leon County Elections office, according to the arrest affidavit. They concluded the governor’s address was modified using a computer web browser and said they found the change was made via computer through a Comcast Cable internet provider.
A subpoena to Comcast for subscriber information gave agents the address of a Naples home in the 4400 block of 19th Avenue. They arrived at that address with a search warrant Tuesday evening and found, the report says, Guevara, his mother and father.
They searched Guevara’s home and his notebook PC and found evidence that he had searched for “Florida Governor” “Florida my vote” and accessed the web site dos.myflorida.com. He also accessed DeSantis' Wikipedia page.
Agents said they believe Guevara also accessed the voter registrations of U.S. Sen Rick Scott and sports celebrities Michael Jordan and LeBron James but made no changes. Jordan long has owned a home in Palm Beach County. James, who just led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA title over the Miami Heat, starred with the Heat from 2010 to 14.
A spokesperson for Scott said he had already voted by mail and was not affected. "He has spoken to law enforcement officials in Florida and appreciates their hard work to protect the integrity of Florida’s elections,'' said Sarah Schwirian.
The fact that DeSantis and Scott are high-profile politicians in Florida, and Jordan and James are celebrities, means their information was not hard to find, Robertson said.
Some counties allow voter address changes, but with more information than the Leon County site required. In Polk County, for example, voters who want to change their voting address can do it online through a form that requires a Social Security number, the number and issued date of their Florida driver’s license or ID cards, along with their full names and date of birth, said Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.
Without a Social Security number of their ID information, Edwards said voters “cannot complete the transaction.”
Elections officials in Tampa Bay said the incident poses no threat to voters here.
“We have had no unauthorized access to any of our databases,” said Dustin Chase, spokesman for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office said that, from what she’s seen, Guevara did not get into the voter registration system, and used publicly accessible voter data. She said she is unaware of any Hillsborough County voters who were affected.
Steve Vancore, spokesperson for the Broward Supervisor of Elections, said DeSantis’ experience is a good reminder for voters to go online and check their voter registration for accuracy.
McClatchy Washington reporter Alex Daugherty contributed to this report. David J. Neal reported from Miami; Mary Ellen Klas and Ana Ceballos reported from Tallahassee.
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