A former Milwaukee election official is fined $3,000 for obtaining fake absentee ballots

MADISON, Wis. — A former Milwaukee elections official convicted of misconduct in office and fraud for obtaining counterfeit ballots was sentenced Thursday to one year of probation and a $3,000 fine.

Kimberly Zapata, 47, was also ordered to complete 120 hours of community service.

Prosecutors charged Zapata in November 2022 with one felony count of misconduct in public office and three misdemeanor counts of election fraud. A jury found her guilty on all four counts in March.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Kori Ashley rejected an argument from Zapata’s lawyers that she was acting as a whistleblower, telling her before handing down the sentence that she had other ways to make her point than breaking the law.

Just before the verdict was handed down, Zapata said she regretted her actions, which she said “stemmed from a complete emotional breakdown,” Wisconsin Public Radio reported. She said she has autism spectrum disorder, which makes it difficult for her to regulate emotions, sensory input and thought processes.

“When someone uses my name, I want him or her to think of good qualities and the good things I have done,” Zapata said. “I don’t want to be forever attached to what I did in those eight minutes of my life.”

The misdemeanor charge carried a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison. Each offense carried a prison sentence of up to six months.

Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal said Zapata’s actions were “an attack on our electoral system,” which only works if the public can trust those who govern it.

“Allegations of election fraud have literally sparked violence and a violent insurrection in Washington, DC,” Westphal said. “That’s the kind of behavior we’re looking at here on the spectrum. That’s where we end up when we have people who are violating their duties and putting out this false information.”

In a sentencing memorandum, Zapata’s attorney Daniel Adams recommended a $500 fine and said any time behind bars would be “a gross injustice and completely unnecessary.”

“She has no criminal record and has been convicted of non-violent crimes,” he wrote to Ashley. “Her intent was not to steal votes, but to expose a legitimate flaw in the election system.”

Zapata was a deputy director at the Milwaukee Election Commission in October 2022 when she used her work-issued laptop to obtain three military absentee ballots using fake names and Social Security numbers, according to a criminal complaint. She sent the ballots to Republican state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, an election conspiracy theorist, two weeks before the state’s gubernatorial and legislative elections.

After officials learned of her actions, she was fired from her job with the city.

Active military personnel in Wisconsin are not required to register to vote or provide photo identification to obtain absentee ballots. Zapata told investigators she was stressed by the death threats committee staff had received from election conspiracy theorists and wanted to shift their attention to real flaws in the system.

Milwaukee, home to the largest number of Democrats in Wisconsin, has been the target of complaints from former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud to attack Biden’s 2020 victory.