BREAKING NEWS UPDATE:
Prosecutors on Friday criminally charged the Milwaukee elections official who allegedly sent ballots to a Republican member of the state legislature who has supported overturning the 2020 presidential election.
The day before, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced he had fired Milwaukee Election Commission deputy director Kimberly Zapata as soon as he learned of the allegations.
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. 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 Menominee Falls Republican who allegedly promoted overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin.
The complaint states Brandtjen received three absentee ballots at her home in Menominee Falls on Oct. 28. The ballots were filled out with names of people who do not exist, prosecutors say, and mailed to clerks in Menominee 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.
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.
“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:
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.