Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Former Milwaukee election official found guilty of obtaining fake absentee ballots

By 37ci3 Mar21,2024

MADISON, Wis. – A jury convicted a former Milwaukee election official of obtaining fraudulent ballots Wednesday, rejecting arguments that he was trying to expose weaknesses in the state’s election system.

Prosecutors in November 2022 charged Kimberly Zapata with misconduct in public office and three counts of election fraud. A jury found him guilty on all four counts in Milwaukee County Circuit Court after beginning deliberations Wednesday morning.

Zapata faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on May 2.

According to the criminal complaint, Zapata was working as a deputy director at the Milwaukee Election Commission in October 2022 when he obtained three military discharge ballots using fake names and Social Security numbers using a laptop he was working on. He sent the ballots to Republican state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, an election conspiracy theorist, two weeks before the state’s gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Brandtjen defended Confirming President Joe Biden’s 2020 Wisconsin victory and has been a supporter conspiracy theories that support his position.

Active duty military members do not need to register or provide photo ID to vote in Wisconsin. Zapata told investigators that he was concerned about the death threats commission staff received from election conspiracy theorists and wanted to focus their attention on real flaws in the system.

His lawyer, Daniel Adams, argued during the two-day trial that Zapata saw himself as an informant and had no intention of harming anyone. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal said Zapata has gone rogue and broken the law rather than share his concerns with state election officials, reporters or lawmakers.

“He is not an informant. It does not disclose information. He is committing election fraud,” Westphal said during closing arguments Wednesday morning. “As a society, we cannot tolerate people breaking the law when there are many legitimate means to express the same concerns.”

Adams declined to comment through a law office receptionist after the verdicts.

The case against Zapata mirrors one in July against Harry Wait, a Racine man who solicited and received ballots on behalf of legislators and local officials. Wait also said he wants to expose weaknesses in the state’s election system. If convicted of election fraud and two felony counts of identity theft, he faces up to 13 years in prison.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s most Democratic state, has been the target of complaints from former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who have made unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud to attack Biden’s 2020 victory.

Heading to state April 2 presidential electionsWisconsin is again one of several battleground states that will be important to both parties in the November presidential election.

Brandtjen faces his own legal problems. Wisconsin Ethics Commission recommended last month He is filing criminal charges against Brandtjen and a Trump fundraising committee, accusing them of trying to evade campaign finance laws in an attempt to oust GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

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