Kimberly Zapata worked at the commission for seven years. The mayor said she admitted to illegally requesting military ballots and sending them to the home of State Rep. Janel Brantdjen (R-Menomonee Falls). While it happened outside of work, the mayor said it's unacceptable.
"This has every appearance of being an egregious and blatant violation of trust," Johnson said. "I was stunned, absolutely stunned, to hear the very serious allegations against her."
As a member of the military, voters don't have to register or show an ID to cast their ballot. The city of Milwaukee believes Zapata was trying to prove a loophole in the elections process.
"It’s my belief she was pointing out that you can go on to the public system, make up a person and request a ballot," said Claire Woodall-Vogg, the Milwaukee Election Commission's executive director.
Just a few days earlier, Brandtjen posted on social media that she got the ballots at her home address. She forwarded them to the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department, which launched an investigation.
"Unlike Mayor Johnson, I have actually been working on providing Wisconsinites a safe and secure election process. We have uncovered so many issues that demand attention," Brandtjen said in a statement Thursday.
Milwaukee city officials said Zapata was immediately removed from accessing city databases, and they are looking into all the elections she has been involved in.
"Up into this point, we never had any indication of any type of violation of work policies or procedures," said Woodall-Vogg. "We, of course, will be taking an extra look at that. But up into this point, she has been forthcoming, and we don’t have any indication of any concerns at this point. But that’s not to say we won’t be looking at every aspect of elections that she’s been involved in."
Milwaukee Election Commission
FOX6 News spoke to Zapata during the August primary election. Thursday, Zapata refused to speak to FOX6 – and drove off.
The case is now in the hands of the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, which said charges will be coming in the next few days. Zapata's attorney, Michael Maistelman, said the matter will be litigated in the courtroom – not in the media.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson
"The City of Milwaukee has removed the Deputy Director of our Election Commission following stunning information about allegations against her.
"I was told yesterday that she apparently sought fictious military ballots from a state election website and had those ballots directed to a state representative.
"I will not accept, I will not tolerate, and I certainly will not defend any misrepresentation by a city official involved in elections. 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.
"This has every appearance of being an egregious, blatant violation of trust, and this matter is now in the hands of law enforcement.
"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.
"She has been forthcoming about her actions, and we have no indication of any other violations of trust. Even so, we are looking into the possibility of other misdeeds.
"Let there be no doubt about this, election integrity is absolutely essential. 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."
State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls)
"Unlike Mayor Johnson, I have actually been working on providing Wisconsinites a safe and secure election process. We have uncovered so many issues that demand attention. I have been attacked by the liberal media, democrats who benefit from the system, and republicans who don’t have the backbone to take on the issues, including Speaker Vos, who has referred to me as a conspiracy theorist. All of the while, we have uncovered massive amounts of election disparities and a statewide Election Commission that has undeniably broken the law on numerous occasions. It’s time we do the people’s business, and that includes the media and both parties taking part."
Statement of Milwaukee Common Council members Michael Murphy, Robert Bauman, Milele Coggs, JoCasta Zamarripa, Mark Borkowski, José Pérez, Scott Spiker, and Marina Dimitrijevic
"We applaud Mayor Johnson’s decision to terminate the employment of Kimberly Zapata, now former deputy director of the Election Commission.
"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.
"Despite the actions of this now former city official, we continue to have faith in our election workers, our system, and the overall integrity of our election operation in the City of Milwaukee."
Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing election fraud allegations involving Milwaukee Election Commission Deputy Director, Kimberly Zapata. We expect charges to be filed in the coming days.
Executive Board of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County
"The Democratic Party of Milwaukee County wholeheartedly condemns Kimberly Zapata for filing fraudulent requests for military absentee ballots.
"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.
"We are worse off when extremists promote conspiracy theories and damage our electoral process. We call on members of the Legislature, the Republican Party, and folks across Wisconsin to counter the false narratives around election fraud pushed by far-right extremists like Rep. Brandtjen."
Republican Party of Wisconsin Communications Director Chad Doran
"Election officials need to follow the law. However, the vulnerabilities that continue to be exposed in the MyVote system for requesting absentee ballots should be shocking to everyone. We remain very concerned that these vulnerabilities exist and that the Elections Commission is not taking the proper steps to mitigate the risks of potential fraud those vulnerabilities in the system create."