Milwaukee Deputy Election Director Charged With Felony, Motive Revealed
Kimberly Zapata was fired Wednesday, now charged for improperly requesting absentee ballots.
Milwaukee’s now-former deputy election director faces one felony charge for misconduct in public office and three misdemeanor charges for making a false statement to request three absentee military ballots using a legally-enshrined loophole in the state’s election system.
Kimberly Zapata, as Mayor Cavalier Johnson revealed Thursday, is accused of requesting three ballots for fictitious people be sent to the home of Representative Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), the chair of the Wisconsin State Assembly‘s Elections Committee. Johnson said upon learning of the issue Wednesday, Zapata was immediately terminated and locked out of city resources.
A criminal complaint from Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office details Zapata’s alleged actions, and a possible motive.
In an interview with the DA’s office, Zapata is alleged to have committed the action from her southwest side home the morning of Oct. 25 to draw attention to the “actual true fraud” and move Brandtjen, who has empowered Michael Gableman and pushed to decertify the 2020 election, away from “conspiracy theories.”
“Zapata stated that she felt overwhelmed due to the threats of violence the Election Commission was receiving, in addition to the constant daily harassment and accusations of lying and hiding things,” says the complaint. “She stated she wanted the truth to come out so that they could focus on the actual problems.” Zapata was on bereavement leave preceding her actions, but returned to work on Oct. 24.
Zapata, according to the complaint, used the public-facing My Vote WI to request the ballots. She created fictitious people that lived in South Milwaukee, Shorewood and Menomonee Falls and had all of the ballots sent to Brandtjen’s Menomonee Falls home. She did, however, use a privileged election worker system to access Brandtjen’s address, which would have been available in other public documents.
Military members do not need to register in advance or provide an ID in order to request an absentee ballot.
Brandtjen received the ballots on Oct. 28. The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office announced it was investigating the matter on Oct. 31. Zapata’s then-boss Claire Woodall-Vogg, according to the complaint, discussed the issue with Zapata, who denied any knowledge, that day. Zapata, 45, then approached Woodall-Vogg on Wednesday, Nov. 2 and volunteered she requested the ballots.
Zapata, who is represented by attorney Michael Maistelman, is first due in court Nov. 28. The felony carries a maximum penalty of $10,000 and three and a half years in custody. The misdemeanors each carry maximum penalties of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Zapata, 45, was a longtime city employee. She was promoted to the deputy director role in July by Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg. The executive director said Zapata had worked for the commission for about seven years and the city for 10 years.
“It does not matter to me 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 any election results,” said Johnson on Thursday. “This has every appearance of being an egregious, blatant violation of trust.”
“Up until this point we had never had any indication of violations of work policies or procedures,” said Woodall-Vogg. But she said a full review was underway.
Brandtjen characterized the matter earlier this week as someone attempting to expose a loophole in the state’s election system.
Brandtjen compared the military ballot requests to crimes committed by Harry Wait, who requested ballots for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason earlier this year. Wait, a leader of the H.O.T. Government group that promotes claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, was charged with multiple felonies.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it 100 times over if necessary to bring public awareness to the vulnerabilities in [the Wisconsin Elections Commission] and how it can be exposed and exploited,” said Wait in September.
“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 Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe in a statement Thursday.
“The news that Ms. Zapata reportedly violated her oath and the public trust by fraudulently requesting military absentee ballots – and then sending those ballots to a state legislator – is shocking, sad and extremely disappointing. Although she apparently did this outside of work and on her own time, that fact does NOT matter. Her actions leave a stain on the Election Commission and city government that is hurtful and unwarranted, but nonetheless damaging,” said a Thursday statement from eight of the 11 council members.
- Judge Dismisses Rep. Brandtjen’s Military Ballot Lawsuit - Baylor Spears - Aug 1st, 2023
- City Hall: Zapata Resigns City Job Before Disciplinary Decision - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 9th, 2023
- Zapata Pleads Not Guilty To Felony Charge Related To Voter Fraud - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 9th, 2022
- Former Milwaukee Election Official Pleads Not Guilty On Election Fraud Charges - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 2nd, 2022
- Don’t Disband Elections Commission Says Its Administrator - Sarah Lehr - Nov 11th, 2022
- Court Won’t Block Counting Of Military Ballots - Bridgit Bowden - Nov 8th, 2022
- Milwaukee Deputy Election Director Charged With Felony, Motive Revealed - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 4th, 2022
- UPDATE: Military Ballot Investigation - Waukesha County Sheriff's Department - Nov 4th, 2022
- WEC Statement Regarding Milwaukee Election Official - Wisconsin Elections Commission - Nov 3rd, 2022
- Likely criminal case looming against former deputy director of the Election Commission - Milwaukee Common Council - Nov 3rd, 2022
Read more about Zapata ballot charges here