Former Wisconsin election official convicted by jury for creating fake identities to obtain fraudulent military absentee ballots in 2022 election

 March 23, 2024

Former President Donald Trump's oft-repeated complaints about the alleged ease and prevalence of election fraud were at least partially vindicated on Wednesday in Wisconsin.

That is when a jury convicted a former top Milwaukee elections official for creating fake identities to obtain military absentee ballots fraudulently ahead of the 2022 elections, according to the Washington Examiner.

Kimberly Zapata, formerly the deputy director of the Milwaukee Elections Commission, had the fraudulently obtained military absentee ballots sent to a prominent Republican lawmaker known for echoing Trump's claims about widespread election fraud.

Fake identities created to obtain fraudulent absentee ballots

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a jury deliberated for about five hours on Wednesday before finding Zapata guilty of one felony count of misconduct in public office and three misdemeanor counts of making false statements to obtain absentee ballots.

She was accused of misusing her work-issued laptop and her access to the state's voter system to create three fictitious identities and then request military absentee ballots on their behalf, all of which were sent to the home of State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Republican who has been outspoken in warning against the risks of election fraud.

Zapata did not testify during the trial, but a recording was played for the court of an interview with police in which she explained that she purposefully sent the fraudulent ballots to Brandtjen because "She is the most vocal election fraud politician that I know of, and I thought that maybe this would make her stop and think and redirect her focus away from these outrageous conspiracy theories to something that's actually real."

She further expressed in that interview her "hope" that other election officials would catch the fraudulent ballots before they were sent, and her defense attorney argued during the trial that, rather than engage in actual election fraud, Zapata had been acting not in her official capacity but rather as a "whistleblower" to draw attention to potential vulnerabilities in Wisconsin's election system.

"Whistleblower" defense claim rejected by prosecutors

Prosecutors rejected that claim, however, as Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal told the jury, "The appropriate way to raise a concern is to bring forth information, it’s not to commit a crime," and added, "If Ms. Zapata felt this information needed to be brought to light, there was multiple, legitimate avenues she could have taken. She chose instead to take the avenue of breaking the law."

He further argued that Zapata's duty as an election official is to defend the integrity of the voting system, and asserted of her fraudulent actions, "This was not acting as a guardian of our elections, a guardian of our democracy. This was her deserting her duty to protect and secure our elections."

According to the Associated Press, Zapata is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on May 2, and faces the possibility of up to five years in prison.

Targeted Republican lawmaker speaks out

On Tuesday, before the conclusion of the trial, State Rep. Brandtjen said in a statement, "Until days before the 2022 election, I had never met or known Kim Zapata. Her case highlights a critical flaw in the online WisVote system, which allows individuals under indefinite confinement, overseas, or with military status to request and receive ballots without sufficient security measures. Moreover, the system permits ballot requests using a VPN, making it difficult to trace the origin of the requests."

"If Ms. Zapata had wished to raise concerns about the election process, she could have done so anonymously by contacting appropriate authorities rather than jeopardizing her job and reputation," the statement continued. "I cannot speak to Kim Zapata’s intent as I have never spoken with her. However, I reported the issue to the Waukesha Sheriff’s Department, requesting an investigation into those who requested the ballots, particularly since one had my last name attached. Regrettably, neither the Wisconsin Elections Commission nor any investigators have contacted me regarding this matter."

The GOP lawmaker noted, "Had Kim Zapata used a VPN and remained anonymous, I would have been suspected of creating my own ballot requests, a situation I could not have easily disproved."

"It is concerning that neither the legislature, the Governor, nor the Republican and Democratic parties have addressed the lack of confirmation for military ballot requests, as mandated by law," Brandtjen added. "The online WisVote system allows individuals to request and send certain types of ballots without verified identities."

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