In early November, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was alerted of reported vote tampering. Electronic accounts had been accessed without authorization to artificially skew the results in favor of one person: a high school student at J.M. Tate High School near Pensacola, FL.
A five-month investigation found that Laura Carroll, an assistant principal at the nearby Bellview Elementary School, and her 17-year-old daughter, Emily Grover, had cast at least 117 votes for homecoming queen in Emily's favor using Carroll’s school district login. On Monday, department agents arrested both of them and charged them with conspiracy.
According to the investigation, Carroll’s employee account had been used to gain access to 372 internal accounts of Tate High students since August, reports The New York Times. These accounts, which students used to cast homecoming-court votes, include personal information including students' grades, disciplinary records, and medical histories.
Working against herself unknowingly, Emily frequently spoke about having access to other students’ information using her mother’s login credentials. This was corroborated by eight fellow students and one teacher in witness statements. “She looks up all of our group of friends’ grades and makes comments about how she can find our test scores all of the time,” reads one arrest affidavit from a witness. “I recall times that she logged into her mom’s FOCUS account and openly shared information, grades, schedules, etc., with others,” said another student. “She did not seem like logging in was a big deal and was very comfortable doing so.”
On October 31, Emily was chosen as her school's homecoming queen. But by the time Emily stood on the football field in a sparkling silver dress waiting to accept her crown, whispers had already begun spreading among the student body about the illegitimacy of her victory.
Around the same time, the school district’s elections contractor got in touch with school administrators after flagging upwards of 100 votes all cast in a short period of time from the same IP address. Investigators determined that 124 votes had been cast from Emily’s phone and 122 from Carroll’s phone.
Investigators alleged that Carroll was aware that her daughter was accessing her account. On top of that, school district policy required her to change her password every 45 days, suggesting that she regularly shared her new password with her daughter, reports The Washington Post.
Records show that Emily was expelled from the school as a result of her decision to rig the court selection, and that the family contested the decision but it did nothing to change the outcome. She was also arrested and sent to juvenile detention for an evaluation. Currently, it is unclear if she has been released. Carroll was reportedly suspended from her job. She was also taken into custody on Monday and later released on $8,500 bail.
“She’d love to give out her side of the story,” said Carroll’s lawyer, Randall J. Etheridge, in a statement given to the NYT. “But it would probably be after we resolve the case.”
Instances of voter fraud in the United States are exceedingly rare. This latest plot to rig a high school election isn’t quite the national scandal many Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, spoke about — but it is one of the biggest high school scandals we've seen in years.
Currently, there is no court date set for Carroll or her daughter.