Mayor Cavalier Johnson held an unscheduled press conference on November 3 to announce the removal of Kimberly Zapata as from the city’s Election Commission, after learning she fraudulently requested military absentee ballots.
While the exact motive remains under investigation, it is believed that the political stunt by Zapata was designed to promote conspiracy theories and damage Milwaukee’s electoral process.
According to statements, Zapata sent the ballots to Republican State Representative Janel Brandtjen, to inform her of the possibility of election fraud. The removal of Zapata came less than a week before the midterms in Wisconsin. The governor, U.S. Senate seat, and a number of U.S. House races are up for election.
“The City of Milwaukee has removed the Deputy Director of our Election Commission following stunning information about allegations against her,” said Mayor Johnson. “I was told yesterday that she apparently sought fictitious military ballots from a state election website and had those ballots directed to a state representative.”
Mayor Johnson said that he would not accept, tolerate, or defend any misrepresentation by a city official involved in elections. He added that Zapata’s actions had the appearance of being an egregious and blatant violation of trust.
“Let there be no doubt about this, election integrity is absolutely essential,” added Mayor Johnson. “Both our Election Commission Executive Director and I will make certain Milwaukee’s election administration is conducted with the very highest level of accuracy and honesty – without any hints of impropriety.”
The matter has been handed over to law enforcement officials, who are looking into the possibility of other misdeeds. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the allegations against Zapata, with the expectation of charges being filed in the coming days.
“Immediately upon learning of this situation, the employee in question had her access to the offices and access to computer systems deactivated, and her employment in the election commission office was terminated,” added Mayor Johnson. “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.”
The Executive Board of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County released a statement condemning Zapata for filing fraudulent requests for military absentee ballots. The organization said that Wisconsin, and America, were suffered when extremists promoted conspiracy theories to damage the electoral process.
“This attempt to undermine confidence in our elections and abuse the system our service members use to participate in democracy is wholly disqualifying for any staff member of the commission. Our democracy is protected by hundreds of election workers and thousands of volunteers across the state — we would like to thank and honor them for their hard work as well as Mayor Cavalier Johnson for his swift action to protect the commission.”
Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of Milwaukee Election Commission, said Zapata had been with the commission for seven years. Woodall-Vogg said she believed that Zapata used the state’s website MyVote Wisconsin to accomplish the task, not an internal database.
Military members, who are not required to register to vote, are exempt from providing any photo identification information.
“Up until this point we had never had any indication of any type of violation of work policies or procedures by Zapata,” said Woodall-Vogg. “It is my belief that she was pointing out that you can go onto the public system, make up a person and request the ballot.”
State Representative Brandtjen recently shared pictures on social media of three military absentee ballots addressed to someone named “Holly” that were sent to her home. Brandtjen, who is also the chairwoman of the Assembly Elections Committee, has been accused of pushing false narratives around election fraud. Such unsupported claims have become a growing political weapon used by far-right extremists.
Milwaukee Common Council members also released a joint statement applauding Mayor Johnson’s decision to terminate Zapata.
“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. We are calling on the office of the Milwaukee County District Attorney to initiate an investigation into this matter, and we plan to bring the director of the Election Commission before one or more Council committees to answer questions about this matter.” – Alderman Michael J. Murphy, Alderman Robert J. Bauman, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa, Alderman Mark A. Borkowski, Alderman José G. Pérez, Alderman Scott Spiker, and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic
Despite the actions of the now former city official, Council members said that they continued to have faith in local election workers and the overall integrity of the election system in the City of Milwaukee.