A 20-year-old Naples man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony criminal charges that he changed the voter registration record for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to the home address of a minor YouTube celebrity.
The lawyer for Anthony Steven Guevara said the prank was not malicious and represented a wakeup call for concerns about the integrity of Florida’s voter systems. Guevara told criminal investigators that he looked up the governor’s birth date on Wikipedia and used it to alter DeSantis’ voter registration online using the state’s election website.
The governor discovered the change when he tried voting Monday in Leon County, which includes the state capital of Tallahassee, and was told his address pointed to a home in West Palm Beach. The secretary of state said DeSantis, a Republican, was able to correct the issue and vote.
“He thought it was funny, but he realized now that although it may be funny,” said Mike Carr, Guevara’s defense lawyer, “it’s also a criminal act modifying the address of a voter, whether it’s the governor or not.”
Guevara was charged Wednesday in Collier County Circuit Court with charges of unauthorized computer access and altering someone else’s voter registration records without permission, both felonies. He pleaded not guilty and indicated he would seek a jury trial, and his next court date will be Nov. 23. Carr said he was unable to put a reporter in touch with Guevara.
Guevara’s own voting records indicate he is a registered Republican.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigated the case, arrested Guevara late Tuesday. He was being held in the county jail in lieu of a $5,000 bond.
Guevara made no effort to disguise his digital footprints, according to court records.
After DeSantis notified state agents, they obtained from Leon County’s network the internet address of the computer used on Oct. 19 to change the governor’s records, which traced to a customer of Comcast Corp. The next day, Comcast provided the address in Naples where Guevara was living. He acknowledged changing the governor’s address and showed agents on a police computer how he did it, according to court records.
Investigators said they found evidence of Google searches for “Florida my vote” and “Florida governor” and a Wikipedia search on Guevara’s Hewlett-Packard laptop, which they seized as evidence.
Florida’s Republican secretary of state, Laurel Lee, said there was no evidence that the state’s voting system was compromised.
“Our systems are secure,” she said in a statement. “There has been no breach to the Florida Department of State’s systems.”
Lee said the 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.” She encouraged voters to check their own registration records for accuracy.
The family with whom Guevara was living in Naples could not be reached by phone. Their voicemail was full and they did not answer calls Wednesday.
The governor’s voter record was changed to an address in West Palm Beach that state investigators said was the home of a Youtube celebrity, Nicholas Perry, 28, known online for the “Nikocado Avocado” channel, with more than 2 million followers. A video he posted late Wednesday did not address the case.
“I went to go vote today, like 12 hours ago, and oh my God, I had to sit in the sun. I felt like a peasant,” he said. Most of the show was devoted to a recipe for spicy Ramen noodles.
The state law enforcement commissioner, Rick Swearingen, said in a statement that his agency was “committed to ensuring the voting rights of Florida citizens are protected, and we will continue to work with our local, state and federal partners in ensuring the security of our elections.”
State investigators said Guevara also accessed the voter registrations of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.; and two basketball legends, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Carr, the defense lawyer, said the records should be better protected.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org