Milwaukee Election Commission official fired following allegations of accessing ballots, sending them to state lawmaker

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — A Milwaukee election official was fired after she fraudulently requested absentee ballots for military members and sent them to a state lawmaker who’s embraced false election conspiracy theories. 

During a press conference Thursday, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Kimberly Zapata, deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, was stripped of her duties for allegedly accessing fictitious military absentee ballots and sending them to state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, co-chair of the Assembly Elections Committee. 

Johnson noted he was “stunned” about the “very serious allegations against her.”  

“I will not accept, I will not tolerate, and I certainly will not defend any misrepresentation by a city official involved in elections,” said Johnson.

Zapata could face criminal charges. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said in a statement his office is reviewing the case and that prosecutors should “expect charges to be filed in the coming days.” 

Rep. Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) alerted the Waukesha County Sherriff’s Department she received three military ballots at her home on Oct. 28. She issued a press release, saying that the ballots were addressed to “Holly,” with three different last names, none of which have ever resided at her address.

Brandtjen, who’s backed the impossible effort to decertify the 2020 election, said this incident highlights the need for lawmakers to reform election laws. 

“We have uncovered so many issues that demand attention,” Brandtjen said in a statement. “I have been attacked by the liberal media, Democrats who benefit from the system, and Republicans who don’t have the backbone to take on the issues, including Speaker Vos, who has referred to me as a conspiracy theorist.”

While the incident allegedly was intended to expose a vulnerability in the system and did not take place while she was working, Mayor Johnson said it is an “egregious” violation of trust. 

He also noted, “Folks should have confidence in our elections,” adding, “This particular person was immediately terminated.”

The mayor said that City of Milwaukee ballots were not a part of the incident, nor were there attempts to tamper with election results or to vote illegally.

This is the second time an individual has attempted to expose vulnerabilities in Wisconsin’s MyVote system, which is used to request absentee ballots.

In July, Harry Wait, a Racine County man, openly admitted to illegally requesting absentee ballots for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Racine Mayor Cory Mason and others.

Wait was charged by the Wisconsin Department of Justice on two counts of election fraud and two counts of use of another’s personal information. Wait recently pleaded not guilty in the ongoing court case.

Ann Jacobs, a Democrat who serves on the bipartisan state elections commission, denounced Zapata and Wait’s actions and emphasized there are measures in place to ensure people who commit voter fraud are caught.  

“There are safeguards in place and the only people who are violating these safeguards are the ones who are committing crimes and getting caught,” Jacobs said. 

Republican governor candidate Tim Michels, who’s made election integrity a centerpiece of his campaign, said Thursday he wants to replace the Wisconsin Elections Commission with a “Wisconsin Integrity Group,” to include members from Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts. 

Jacobs called the idea “silly” and noted if Michels is elected, she said he may try to rig a new system to favor Republicans. Right now, WEC is comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans. 

“The idea that we are going to spend taxpayer dollars and employees’ time to rejigger into a new organization is unnecessary and a little silly,” said Jacobs. 

Michels was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and has raised questions about the 2020 results. 

When asked by CBS 58 if he wants to eliminate the MyVote system, Michels said: “I don’t want to eliminate anyone’s ability to vote. I want to make it easier to vote and make it impossible to cheat.” 

Below is the full statement from the mayor’s office:

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