MIAMI — The report about vote tampering reached the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in early November: Someone had gained access to electronic accounts without authorization. At least 117 votes had been suspiciously cast — in J.M. Tate High School’s election for homecoming court.
It was a case reminiscent of the 1999 dark comedy film “Election.”
Department agents arrested Laura Carroll, 50, and her daughter, Emily Grover, 17, on Monday and charged them with conspiracy to use Ms. Carroll’s school district login to help Ms. Grover get elected homecoming queen.
A five-month investigation found that the login for Ms. Carroll, an assistant principal at Bellview Elementary School near Pensacola, was used to gain access to the internal accounts of 372 Tate High students since August. The accounts include personal information such as students’ grades, medical history and disciplinary records.
Students use the same accounts with an application to cast votes for homecoming.
Ms. Grover often spoke about obtaining students’ information using her mother’s login, eight students and one teacher said 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,” one of the witnesses said, according to the arrest affidavits.
Escambia County School District employees are supposed to change their password to log in to the internal system every 45 days.
One witness told the agents that Ms. Grover had said she knew using her mother’s login would result in a “ping” that showed that Ms. Carroll had logged on at Tate High. Agents interviewed Ms. Carroll in November and knocked on her door last month to talk further, but she referred them to her lawyer, according to her arrest affidavit.
Ms. Grover was expelled, according to police records, a decision that the family contested, but the expulsion was upheld. Ms. Carroll was suspended from her job, Tim Smith, the superintendent of the Escambia public schools, said in an email. He declined to comment further.
Ms. Carroll was taken into custody on Monday and released on $8,500 bail. Ms. Grover was sent to juvenile detention for an evaluation, according to the Department of Law Enforcement.
Reached at her home in Cantonment, Fla., on Monday evening, Ms. Carroll declined to comment. “Wow,” she said when a New York Times reporter called. She directed questions to her lawyer, who did not immediately respond to interview requests.
The school district’s elections contractor contacted school administrators in October after flagging more than 100 votes that were cast in a short period of time, all from the same unique IP address. The student council coordinator also heard reports that Ms. Grover had boasted about using her mother’s login to get into students’ accounts during the election, according to witness statements.
Investigators later determined through IP addresses that 124 votes had been cast from Ms. Carroll’s phone, and 122 from Ms. Carroll’s and Ms. Grover’s residence.
On Oct. 30, Ms. Grover was elected homecoming queen.
Jack Begg contributed research.