Milwaukee elections official criminally charged over fraudulent military ballots

Kimberly Zapata was criminally charged with misconduct in public office (a felony) and three counts of making false statements to obtain absentee ballots.
MJS-Kimberly Zapata
Posted at 9:39 AM, Nov 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-04 22:46:12-04

Prosecutors on Friday criminally charged a recently fired Milwaukee elections official for allegedly sending military absentee ballots to a Republican member of the state legislature who has supported overturning the 2020 presidential election.

The elections official admitted to investigators that she was attempting to highlight flaws within the absentee system.

On Thursday, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced he had fired Milwaukee Election Commission deputy director Kimberly Zapata as soon as he learned of the allegations.

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe condemns Zapata's actions.

"I'm deeply disappointed in this individuals' actions," Wolfe said.

Wolfe said Zapata's actions is a major setback when it comes to showing Wisconsinite's elections are run with integrity.

"I have every confidence that upcoming elections will be fair and accurate," Wolfe stated. "The system is designed with many checks, by voters, clerks and state officials."

TMJ4's Ubah Ali went to Zapata's home Friday to try and speak with her, but no one opened the door.

According to a criminal complaint and online court records on Friday, Zapata was criminally charged with misconduct in public office (a felony) and three counts of making false statements to obtain absentee ballots (misdemeanors). The maximum sentence for the charges is five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Zapata sent the ballots to Wisconsin State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the Menomonee Falls Republican who allegedly promoted overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin.

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)

The complaint states Brandtjen received three absentee ballots at her home in Menomonee Falls on Oct. 28. The ballots were filled out with names of people who do not exist, prosecutors say, and mailed to clerks in Menomonee Falls, Shorewood, and South Milwaukee. They were all classified as military absentee ballots.

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation into the ballots and later learned that Zapata had created three fake names and used them to apply for three military absentee ballots. She then used her governmental access to the WisVote database in order to get the address to Brandtjen, according to the complaint.

"All of this behavior was in excess of her authority," the complaint states.


According to the criminal complaint, Zapata admitted to the executive director of the Milwaukee Elections Commission that she had created three fraudulent voters and used them to send three ballots to State Rep. Janel Brandtjen.

"Zapata told Woodall Vogg [the executive director of the MEC] that she made up the identifies [sic] of the voters and sent them to show how easy it is to commit fraud in this manner," the complaint states.

Woodall-Vogg told investigators the ballots were requested through the MyVote database. From her own digging, Woodall-Vogg found out the fake ballots were requested on Oct. 25. The requests contained the fake names, addresses, and dates of birth of three made-up people. All three fake voters had the same birthday. The names of the fake identities are Holly Brandtjen, Holly Jones, and Holly Adams.

Municipal clerks in South Milwaukee, Shorewood, and Menomonee Falls told investigators that when a military absentee ballot is requested, no further ID verification is required. That's compared to the situation for most voters when a notification is sent to clerks telling them when the voter requested an absentee ballot from the MyVote website.

During an interview with investigators, Zapata said she has held the deputy director position since June or July of 2022. Before that, she worked in different areas of the election commission since she joined the organization in 2016.

Zapata said part of her job is maintaining the integrity of absentee ballots and making sure the voting system works correctly.

Zapata told investigators she accessed the MyVote website on Oct. 25 and submitted three applications for military absentee ballots with randomly selected addresses in Shorewood, South Milwaukee, and Menomonee Falls.

She told investigators in the interview she was "attempting to highlight the flaws within the system is an attempt to maintain election integrity, which is part of her job."

According to the criminal complaint:

"In her interview, Zapata admitted that the information for each of the three ballot applications was false. She stated that the purpose of making these statements was to have ballots be issued. She admitted that she knew a ballot could only be issued in the name of a real person and that entering this false information would be in excess of her authority as an election worker. She admitted she knew she did not have the authority to enter false names. Zapata admitted that she was attempting to highlight flaws within the absentee system. She stated that attempting to highlight the flaws within the system is an attempt to maintain election integrity, which is part of her job."


Mayor Johnson said on Thursday that Zapata sought "fictitious 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.

“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

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, 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.

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

Under Wisconsin law, active members of the military do not have to show proof of ID to request an absentee ballot.

Wolfe said so far for this general election, 2,700 military absentee ballots have been requested, with 1400 already returned.

The deadline to request those is Friday.

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