Former Milwaukee election official convicted of absentee ballot fraud

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MADISON, Wis. – A jury convicted a former Milwaukee elections official Wednesday of absentee ballot fraud and misconduct in office in an unusual case that pitted a self-proclaimed whistleblower against election conspiracy theorists.

Kimberly Zapata, 47, served as Milwaukee’s deputy elections director in 2022, when baseless claims about the election were circulating among Republicans, including in the state legislature. Zapata has said that the focus of some lawmakers in this critical swing state on meritless issues frustrated her and she wanted to alert them to what she considered a real vulnerability in Wisconsin’s voting system. To accomplish this, she said, she generated three ballots with fictitious military names and sent them to one of the legislature’s top election deniers.

No illegal votes were cast and the legislator quickly reported the votes to authorities. Zapata shortly after was fired and charged with one felony count of misconduct in office and three misdemeanor counts of absentee ballot fraud.

A Milwaukee County jury convicted Zapata on Wednesday after hearing two days of testimony. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $13,000 fine.

Shortly after being charged in November 2022, Zapata told the Washington Post reached a “breaking point” due to false election claims and threats. He said lawmakers should investigate the real problems with the state’s voting system and said he wanted to make that point in “the loudest, most attention-grabbing way.”

“I understand that what I did was wrong and I understand that I need consequences for it,” he said in that interview. “But at the same time, I did this for the greater good. “I did this so that American voters would believe in the electoral system again.”

She described herself as an undecided voter and said she did not consider herself a Republican or a Democrat.

Falsehoods about the election flourished in Wisconsin after Joe Biden narrowly won the state in 2020. Republican lawmakers hired investigators who consulted with conspiracy theorists and flirted with trying to overturn the state’s 10 electoral votes More than a year after the elections. The lead investigator for Republican lawmakers. later recognized that attempting to withdraw electoral votes was “a practical impossibility.”

Unlike most states, Wisconsin allows military members to cast absentee ballots without registering to vote or presenting proof of residency. Zapata said he saw that policy as a problem and used a state website to send three ballots with made-up names to state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R), who has promoted debunked theories about the 2020 election and at the time led the Assembly. State of Wisconsin. electoral committee.

Brandtjen, in a written statement this week, said he had never spoken to Zapata, but believed he had identified a “critical flaw” in the state’s online system for requesting absentee ballots. He said he was concerned that lawmakers and the state elections commission had not done more to address the problem.

Election officials have downplayed the incident, saying they would quickly uncover any case in which large numbers of fictitious ballots were created. They have said that the charges against Zapata show that such plans do not work.

Zapata created the ballots under fake names four months after Wisconsin conservative activist Harry Wait made online requests to have ballots intended for other people sent to your house. Wait, who was c?charged with two felonies and two misdemeanorshas said he was trying to expose what he sees as flaws in the way the state allows voters to request absentee ballots.

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