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Milwaukee election official fired for fraudulently requesting military absentee ballots

The election official in question is Milwaukee Election Commission deputy director Kimberly Zapata.
MJS-Kimberly Zapata
Posted at 10:51 AM, Nov 03, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced Thursday that the deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission fraudulently requested military absentee ballots and sent them to a Wisconsin state representative.

Mayor Johnson said during an unscheduled press briefing Thursday that he fired the city election official as soon as he learned of the allegation.

The election official in question is Milwaukee Election Commission Deputy Director Kimberly Zapata. Johnson said Zapata sought "fictious military ballots" from a state election website and had those ballots sent to State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the Menomonee Falls Republican. Zapata did so, the mayor said, to expose a vulnerability in state law.

MJS-Kimberly Zapata
Kimberly Zapata, former deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, is shown here instructing workers processing ballots on April 5 at the city's central counting facility. Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Zapata was fired this week over fraudulently obtaining absentee ballots intended for members of the military. (Photo: Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“I will not accept, I will not tolerate, and I certainly will not defend any misrepresentation by a city official involved in elections. It does not matter that this might have been an effort to expose a vulnerability that state law created. It does not matter that this alleged crime did not take place at work. It does not matter that City of Milwaukee ballots were not part of this. Nor does it matter that there was no attempt to vote illegally or tamper with election results," according to Mayor Johnson.

Watch Mayor Johnson talk about election allegation:

Mayor Cavalier Johnson addresses election fraud issue

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said it is reviewing election fraud allegations involving Milwaukee Election Commission Deputy Director Kimberly Zapata and that they expect charges to be filed in the coming days.

Milwaukee attorney Michael Maistelman, who has been hired as Zapata's legal representation, tells TMJ4 News: “We will litigate this in the courtroom, not the media.”

This comes just a week before the midterms in Wisconsin, in which the state's governor, U.S. Senate seat and a number of U.S. House races are up for election. The integrity of the election system also remains at stake as members of the Republican party continue to question election validity.

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department on Monday said it was investigating an allegation that someone requested military absentee ballots and sent them to the home of Republican State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who lives in Menomonee Falls.

Brandtjen's office confirmed the investigation in Waukesha County, saying she received three ballots for military voters she believed to be fake. “I believe someone was trying to point out how easy it is to get military ballots in Wisconsin,” Brandtjen said in a statement then.

Rep. Brandtjen leads the Wisconsin State Assembly's elections committee. In that role of elections committee chair, Brandtjen promoted overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin, according to the Associated Press and others.

The case is similar to one in Racine, where a man named Harry Wait requested and received absentee ballots in the names of lawmakers and state officials. Wait said he wanted to expose issues with the state's election system. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of election fraud and two felony counts of identity theft. If found guilty, he could spend more than a dozen years behind bars.

In Wisconsin, military voters are not required to register to vote. That means they don’t need to provide a photo ID to request an absentee ballot.

The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department said on Friday that they learned Rep. Brandtjen received the ballots at her home in Milwaukee County and turned the investigation into the ballots over to the Milwaukee County DA's office.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission released the following statement:

“I am stunned and deeply disappointed by reports that a City of Milwaukee election official has violated election law, and undermined the trust of the public, of members of our armed forces, and of her fellow election workers,” said WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe.

“The actions of this single individual were swiftly detected and will have no impact the November 8 election.  We however recognize that the damage caused by this action is damage to public confidence. This violation of trust cuts to the heart of election integrity, something that the Wisconsin Elections Commission and local election officials hold in the most serious regard. While the actions of this individual set us all back in our efforts to show Wisconsinites that our elections are run with integrity, I have every confidence the upcoming election will be fair and accurate.

“While this case understandably will receive a lot of attention, the fact remains that election fraud is extremely rare, and when it does occur, it is quickly discovered, and there are consequences.

“This lone individual’s actions do not in any way reflect the high level of integrity that the rest of our local election officials – your friends, neighbors, and relatives – bring to their jobs every single day.

“While this incident is a deeply unfortunate violation of trust, it shows that our strong legal and election systems worked as intended to root out this alleged crime.  

“I trust that our legal system will thoroughly investigate this matter and deliver accountability where appropriate. The Wisconsin Elections Commission stands ready to provide any information or data our law enforcement partners may request.

“Our understanding is that no other ballots, beyond those previously reported, have been affected by this individual’s actions.”

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