Florida Mother-Daughter Face Jail for Stealing Homecoming Election

A typical case of American blind justice.

A typical case of American blind justice.

While by no means the most important story out there today, this has to be among the most bizarre:

USA Today (“Florida student accused of rigging homecoming queen vote could face 16-year sentence“):

A Florida high school student accused of rigging her school’s election will be charged as an adult.

Emily Grover and her mother Laura Carroll, assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School, were arrested in March after authorities said the duo used Carroll’s special access to the district’s student data system to cast hundreds of fraudulent votes for Grover in the homecoming queen election at Tate High School.

Grover was arrested when she was 17 years old. She turned 18 on April 16.

“This is not unusual with young people of that age. Juvenile (court) cannot do anything or supervise them after they become 18. And so it just makes better sense to move them into adult court where they can be supervised effectively,” said Assistant State Attorney John Molchan.

While Grover will be charged as an adult, the court still has the ability to impose juvenile sanctions.

Carroll remains free on a $6,000 bond, and Grover is free on $2,000 bond. Prosecutors said the mother and daughter each face a maximum 16-year sentence.

Both Grover and Carroll’s next court date is May 14 for their arraignment.

They are each charged with:

*Offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices (third-degree felony)

*Unlawful use of a two-way communications device (third-degree felony)

*Criminal use of personally identifiable information (third-degree felony)

*Conspiracy to commit these offenses (first-degree misdemeanor)

The rest of the story goes into some detail as to how neither mother nor daughter were exactly criminal masterminds.

Granting that the daughter is unlikely to get anything like 16 years, it strikes me as absurd that she’s being pursued criminally at all. Her expulsion from school and the sheer ignominity of stealing the homecoming election is surely sufficient punishment for what amounts to a stupid prank.

The mother is a different case, in that she was in a position of authority. Still, I’m not sure the degree of the transgression here warrants criminal charges. Firing and loss of benefits? Sure. But this just strikes me as a gross waste of the resources of the criminal justice system and, frankly, overreach.

And, surely, there’s more than a little irony in Florida, with its history of voter suppression, taking a homecoming queen election more seriously than it does actual elections.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Education, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Reminds me of Wanda Holloway, the Texas woman who tried to contract for the murder of the mother of her daughter’s rival for a place on the cheerleading squad. Not as violent, of course.

    What is it with these people? Are they living vicariously through their teenaged daughters?

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  2. mattbernius says:

    The mother is a different case, in that she was in a position of authority. Still, I’m not sure the degree of the transgression here warrants criminal charges. Firing and loss of benefits? Sure. But this just strikes me as a gross waste of the resources of the criminal justice system and, frankly, overreach.

    It doesn’t. Not in the least. Nor does it warrent creating a situation where someone at the beginning of their adult life is saddled with a felony conviction that will follow them around forever (Florida has no sealing statute) extending their punishment into the future (including disenfranchising them if they stay in Flordia). Spending time in prison for this is even more rediculous.

    But, hopefully, the more (middle class white) people are exposed to this type of gross overcharing in order to force a plea deal (which might still include a felony or two) the more chance there is of criminal legal system reforms actually taking place.

    But that’s also going to require a lot of (middle-class white) liberals to move away from their “hard punishment” position of “we wouldn’t even be talking about this if they were Black, therefore throw the book at them. In fact, throw it even harder and let me cathartically drink up their tears because they deserve this!”

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  3. KM says:

    Is this about the election per se or the fact that they illegally posed as inviduals and hacked into systems to do so? Sure it was for a stupid, petty reason but they essentially committed fraud and used PII to do so. Identity theft is no joke in this day and age and PII abuse is getting taken seriously.

    Personally, I’m with you – it’s a complete waste of time and resources. Let them plead out and be done with it. However, it’s disingenuous to imply the charges are because of a stupid high school election when really it’s because they were committing digital fraud to get something they wanted. The mother had “district level access of the school board’s program”, meaning she had some fairly sensitive data on a lot of people at her disposal and could have done a lot of damage if she had decided to steal IDs or something more nefarious. Change “school” to “hospital” or “government” and see if charges for abuse of data sound less drastic. A stupid crime done for petty reasons is still a crime.

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  4. dazedandconfused says:

    KM, people shouldn’t be charged for what they could have done. The principal, who I assume called the police into a HC Queen election, should also be removed. I can’t imagine a slippery slope to a wild wild electronic West wherein all sorts of identity fraud becomes un-prosecutable springing from this, I just can’t.

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  5. Kylopod says:

    It reminds me a little of the 1999 movie Election (a favorite movie of mine that’s been somewhat forgotten), about a school president election that (without getting into spoilers) deals with the issue of cheating. In the course of the film, the worst thing that happens to the perpetrators is expulsion and firing. I always assumed that would be the likely result if anything like that were to happen in the real world (and I figured stuff like that has happened, though I can’t remember any specific incidents prior to this one). I agree that criminal prosecution seems excessive.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    This is what used to be called a prank.

    I miss the days when we had a sense of humor in this country.

    8
  7. mattbernius says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    KM, people shouldn’t be charged for what they could have done. The principal, who I assume called the police into a HC Queen election, should also be removed.

    FWIW, there may be statutory (State or Federal) or district policy reasons that require them to report any breaches of PII to law enforcement. It may also be the case that the district doesn’t have the internal forensic tools to easily trace everything that might have been done and determine the source of the breach.

    And +1 to needing to take the context and actions into question.

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  8. So, finally, evidence that electoral fraud is real.

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  9. KM says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    I didn’t say they should be charged for what they could have done; I said the reason they were charged was what they did isn’t as harmless as people keep saying it is. Data breaches of personal information are a BIG deal. You don’t know what they took your information for – just that they took it without permission and against the law. Most folks that have their data misused aren’t lucky enough to have it wasted on a popularity contest. Exposing another’s data on a third party machine or app also increases the risk ANOTHER person could get access, one who isn’t just try to win. There’s a reason why all trainings now stress they don’t care that you thought what you did what harmless or NBD – you expose PII, you are in big trouble. The mother would have gone through such trainings in the district and would know this was a legal no-no.

    I don’t think the law is written is such a way to allow leniency for this kind of thing. They pretended to be other people to cast ballots in a pointless election and illegally obtained and used personal data to do for multiple people. Frankly, whether or not is was is kinda besides the point. Everyone’s focusing on the whole juvenile “prank” aspect of it and ignoring that they did do something that would get you fired and likely arrested and charged if it was any other kind of voting. The nuance here is that it was non-binding high school elections vs legal local elections, not bunch stupid kids doing stupid things vs intentional data theft for profit. As I said, let them plead out and move on but any company out there is gonna care that their future employee was willing to steal PII for something like this. This kind of thing actually matters and shouldn’t be swept under the rug of NBD.

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  10. ptfe says:

    This is absurd, but it’s sadly similar to a ton of what goes on in our “judicial system” every day. See also: prosecutions for “personal property theft” that amounts to a few dollars, sometimes resulting in multi-year sentences.

    That having been said, PII at a school is quite complete. Accessing records illegally (as @KM points out) cannot be swept under the rug. The mother showed more than “poor judgment”, but contextually we all know this should be a misdemeanor offense with a harsh burden on the mother to contribute to the community.

    But also, the argument that the child must be tried as an adult because of the limits of the juvenile system is not only insane, it’s extremely misleading. The Florida DJJ services youth up to 19 – that is, they service 18-19 year olds. Our society’s obsession with trying kids as adults has to end. Having an incompetent/incomplete system is not an excuse for throwing kids into prison, and having a dishonest asshole as an assistant state attorney isn’t either.

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  11. dazedandconfused says:

    @mattbernius:

    I was thinking prosecutorial discretion there. Looks like they didn’t let these despicable menace-to-society thugs plea it down to a misdemeanor, and now they have to go to trial. A lot of work for his dept. Were I the judge I would equip the bailiff with a rolled up newspaper, instruct him to swat everybody associated once (firmly!) on the nose, and call it a day.

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  12. mattbernius says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I was thinking prosecutorial discretion there.

    Yup, this is an example of where prosecutorial discretion should come in. Unfortunately, Florida tends to be a “tough on crime” state.

  13. senyordave says:

    Adults take illegal actions in elections and they get a slap on the wrist, if anything at all. Campaign finance laws are broken routinely and the worst they get is a small fine. Trump officials routinely violated the hatch Act and bragged about it. And they are talking about sending someone to jail over a homecoming queen election. Makes nice a nice story but its ridiculous. Give a fine and a couple hundred hours of community service.

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  14. Kurtz says:

    @ptfe:

    Having an incompetent/incomplete system is not an excuse for throwing kids into prison, and having a dishonest asshole as an assistant state attorney isn’t either.

    Yeah. This.

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  15. Kylopod says:

    @senyordave: The biggest problem in US elections isn’t that people are doing anything illegal; it’s that the people given the power to make and interpret the law use that power in blatantly undemocratic ways. When the SCOTUS in 2000 handed down a ruling that shut down the counting of votes and effectively installed the candidate they favored as president, what they did was perfectly legal–and also incredibly undemocratic. Same with Shelby County v. Holder. Same with the Georgia and Florida bills, which may arguably be unconstitutional, but good luck getting the right-wing courts to agree. The fact is that we live in a system that allows people to do election cheating with the full blessing of legal and constitutional authorities.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    Anyone who wants to be Homecoming Queen is a bit suspect in my book, and anyone who wants their daughter to be Homecoming Queen is even more so. Those people are a menace to society.

    If the girl was Goth or something, and trying to make a bold, obvious statement about popularity and conventional looks, I could see letting them off the hook though.

    I think a judge or jury should be swayed by the argument “Your honor, while my client definitely performed these actions that would generally be considered illegal, it was very funny.”

    Clicking through the girl looks … normal? Like… shockingly average. I don’t know that she gets the funny exemption. Maybe it’s funny?

    ——
    I don’t know what crimes should get the funny exemption.

    I suppose murder shouldn’t, even if the murderer creates an elaborate Rube Goldberg mechanism where the victim is killed through a variety of comical pratfalls before finally slipping on a banana, off a cliff. That should get a verdict of “guilty, but awesome.”

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  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    I bet the community in which this occurred is less upset about the incident, than the one in Ohio(?), where the student’s elected a gay couple class King & Queen.

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM: Indeed. That the woman used her credentials to hack the homecoming court election is merely shameful. That I’ve worked for 2 administrators who used their credentials to change transcripts (and one of them was named superintendent of the school district with the district knowing that he’d done it) causes me to question whether district administrators should be trusted with this kind of access.

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: A high school that I work at sometimes did that play a couple of years back. One of the candidates played her part as though she was Donald Trump. It was hilarious.

    1
  20. Kylopod says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    One of the candidates played her part as though she was Donald Trump.

    I’ve had the feeling when I’ve watched the film that Tracy is meant to represent Hillary Clinton. I’ve also wondered if the dumb jock kid was meant as a stand-in for Dubya, though that’s a bit more of a stretch, given that the novel was from 1998 when Dubya wasn’t really on the national radar yet.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: No, the USA Today article showed her picture (I’m assuming because she’s 18 now) and she’s Suzy Creamcheese, only with a tan.

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: One of them did Hillary, too. Too funny.

    1
  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    All I read was this: “Florida student accused of rigging homecoming queen vote could face 16-year sentence“) and my reaction is, “You gotta be f’n kidding me.”

    Now I’ll go read the rest.

  24. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    she’s Suzy Creamcheese, only with a tan.

    Reminding me of Suzy, sent me off to google and found contradictory articles on Ms. Suzy. One claiming that it was a generic/inclusive term for a group of Jewish, teen girls that hung out at a club in Virginia and the other claiming that it Suzy was an under aged groupie the band shared in Maui.

    Likely, whenever Zappa asked about her, he had a different answer.

    1
  25. Mimai says:

    Anyone who knows anything about Tate High School is none too surprised by this. #onbrand

  26. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    From behind the blue line…he shoots…he scores!