Kimberly Zapata ballot fraud case; preliminary hearing waived

Kimberly Zapata, the fired Milwaukee Election Commission deputy director who is still on the city payroll, appeared in Milwaukee County court on Friday, Dec. 9 for a scheduled preliminary hearing. Zapata waived her right to that preliminary hearing – and pleaded not guilty to felony misconduct in office. The court scheduled Zapata's next court appearance for Feb. 3., 2023.

Kimberly Zapata

Last week, Zapata pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges of election fraud.

Prosecutors charged Zapata in early November with misconduct in public office and three counts of election fraud for making a false statement to obtain an absentee ballot. 

Prosecutors allege Zapata admitted to ordering military ballots for non-existent people. Clerks sent three ballots to the home of State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls). Prosecutors said her motive was to show vulnerabilities in the election system.

Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Maria Dorsey ordered Zapata on Friday, Dec. 2 not to administer elections as the case moves forward. She also ordered no contact with Brandtjen. Dorsey also said Zapata could not contact her former boss, Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg.

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On Friday, the assistant district attorney asked for a tweak to that order.

"The order originally was no contact with Janel Brandtjen and Claire Woodall-Vogg. I’m asking to amend it to specify for Ms. Woodall-Vogg that’s it’s no contact except for contact allowed for the limited purpose of employment investigatory proceedings and or disciplinary proceedings currently pending against Ms. Zapata," said Matthew Westphal, assistant district attorney.

The court commissioner agreed to the change.

Conservative law firm The Thomas More Society lists Bongiorno as one of their attorneys. The firm also includes former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

Zapata worked at the Milwaukee Election Commission for seven years.

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Bongiorno added in court last Friday that Zapata is "still technically" employed by the commission. Milwaukee Department of Employee Relations spokeswoman Angelica Duria explained that city leaders fired Zapata from her role was deputy director, but she had reinstatement rights with her earlier civil service job. For now, she's still on the city payroll on administrative leave as the city follows the necessary steps of discipline and investigation. 

Zapata is due back in court in February. If convicted, she faces up to five years behind bars.