FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis couldn't initially cast his ballot this week because someone illegally changed his address online, a complication that resulted in a suspect's arrest on felony charges and raised questions about the security of the state’s online registration system.
DeSantis went to an early voting site in Tallahassee on Monday to cast his ballot, but was told his address had been changed from the governor's mansion to 2185 Pretty Lane, a small apartment complex in West Palm Beach, 420 miles (675 kilometers) away.
The problem was quickly fixed and the Republican governor and close ally of President Donald Trump was allowed to vote. He then contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which determined the record had been changed online from a house in Naples, Florida.
The FDLE says in court records filed in Collier County that agents went to the house Tuesday, where Anthony Guevara, 20, admitted changing DeSantis' address through the elections website in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located. He told agents he gained access by using the governor's birth date, which he got from Wikipedia. Court records do not say when that happened.
Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley said there are two online systems where voters can change their address. The one Guevara has been accused of accessing is aimed at routine transactions like address changes and requires only the voter's birth date. It has safeguards to prevent hackers from executing mass changes, he said.
The second, more secure system is aimed more at initial voter registrations, but can also be used to change an address. It requires knowing the person's driver's license number, the date it was issued and the last four digits of his or her Social Security number.
Earley said in a transient state like Florida, a simple system for address changes is needed. Any erroneous or fraudulent changes or outdated information can be fixed quickly at any polling place and do not prevent the voter from casting a ballot, he said.
“This is designed for the convenience of the voter,” Earley said. Changing someone else's address “is easy to do, but there are many things that are illegal that are easy to do that have penalties that follow them.”
Guevara, a registered Republican, is charged with accessing a computer without authorization and illegally altering voting records, third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.
Guevara was released after a Wednesday court hearing. Court records do not indicate if he has an attorney who could comment on the charges. Guevara also told agents he accessed voter information on U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and basketball stars LeBron James and Michael Jordan, but said he didn’t change anyone else’s records.
Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees voting in the state and whose office runs the online registration system, issued a statement saying the computer systems “are secure” and voters should have ”confidence in the integrity."
“This incident was perpetrated using publicly accessible voter data, and there is no evidence to suggest that this change was made through the Florida Department of State," Lee said. "We commend the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on their swift action to bringing this malicious actor to justice. The situation was corrected immediately and the voter was able to cast a ballot.”
Her office did not immediately respond to an emailed list of questions about accessing the voting system. On Oct. 7, the state's online voter system crashed during the last hours of registration for this election because the server was overloaded. DeSantis extended registration for an extra day.
The governor's office also did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.