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Trial to begin for Milwaukee election official accused of requesting mail-in ballots for fake military members


The trial for a former Wisconsin election official who allegedly requested mail-in ballots for three nonexistent military voters is scheduled to begin on Monday in a Milwaukee court.

Kimberly D. Zapata, 47, who served as deputy director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, was charged in November 2022 with three misdemeanor counts of election fraud and one count of felony misconduct in public office, according to officials and a criminal complaint.

She pleaded not guilty in December 2022, according to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court’s docket. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday.

Zapata allegedly used Wisconsin’s online voter-registration portal, MyVote, to request the ballots, prosecutors said in a complaint filed in November 2022. Investigators said she later admitted in an interview to filing the requests.

“Zapata admitted that she was attempting to highlight flaws within the absentee system,” investigators said, according to the criminal complaint. “She stated that attempting to highlight the flaws within the system is an attempt to maintain election integrity, which is part of her job.”

Zapata allegedly accessed the public website from home at about 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2022, about two weeks prior to the midterm elections. She allegedly used her city-issued laptop to submit all three requests within a 10-minute window, according to the complaint.

The three fake voters — Holly Brandtjen, Holly Jones and Holly Adams — shared a single birthday, prosecutors said. Officials said municipal clerks in South Milwaukee, Shorewood and Menomonee Falls handled the requests.

“The three requests contained the purported name, address and date of birth of the voter, but contained no proof of identification or residency,” prosecutors said. “All were listed as military voters.”

Military voters are not required to register to vote and are exempt from providing a photo ID, Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the state’s Election Commission, told reporters in November 2022.

“So, it’s my belief that [Zapata] was pointing out that you can go onto the public system, make up a person and request a ballot,” Woodall-Vogg said at a press conference at the time. “She sent it to a state Legislature member in order to alert them to this vulnerability, is our understanding at this point.”

State Assembly Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Republican who served as chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Campaigns and Elections and who had previously questioned the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections, said in a statement that she received all three ballots at her home. She posted photos of the envelopes online, saying she had notified the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Eric Severson’s office said in a statement posted online on Oct. 31, 2022, that it had opened an investigation.

After news of the investigation broke that day, Woodall-Vogg sent Zapata a news story about it, according to the complaint against Zapata. Zapata allegedly told Woodall-Vogg she hadn’t heard about the case, officials said. Prosecutors said Woodall-Vogg then sent a follow-up message, noting a “statement that was put out by JB regarding how easy it was to receive military ballots.”

“She has a point,” Zapata allegedly replied, according to the complaint.

Zapata walked into Woodall-Vogg’s office the following day, prosecutors said, and allegedly told her she’d filed the requests for the ballots.

“Zapata told Woodall-Vogg that she made up the identities of the voters and sent them to show how easy it is to commit fraud in this manner,” the complaint said.

According to the complaint, Zapata told investigators in a later interview that she’d created the requests in part because “she felt overwhelmed due to the threats of violence the Election Commission was receiving, in addition to the constant daily harassment and accusations of lying and hiding things.”

Zapata began working for the commission in 2016 and became deputy director in 2022, officials said. Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson told reporters during a Nov. 3, 2022, press conference that Zapata had been fired, saying her actions “had every appearance of being an egregious, blatant violation of trust.”

The felony charge against Zapata carries maximum penalties of both three and a half years in prison and $10,000 in fines, according to the complaint. Each misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or $1,000 in fines.

After Zapata had been fired, Brandtjen and a group of veterans filed a complaint on Nov. 4, 2022, against the Wisconsin Election Commission seeking to sequester all military mail-in ballots that arrived ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election.

The identities of the military personnel who’ve sent those mail-in ballots should be verified before the ballots are counted, the motion said. Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Maxwell on Nov. 7, 2022, denied the motion, according to court records.

ABC News has reached out to Brandtjen and an attorney representing Zapata for comment.

ABC News’ Lucien Bruggeman contributed to this report.

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