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Military ballot law in need of reform?

By M.D. Kittle

Wisconsin Spotlight | Nov. 14, 2022

MADISON — A Milwaukee election official’s alleged felonious conduct exposed a glaring security flaw in Wisconsin’s absentee ballot law. State. Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) says it’s long past time to change the law on military member voting.

Kimberly Zapata, the Milwaukee Election Commission’s second-in-command, is facing up to five years in prison on a felony count of misconduct in office and three misdemeanor counts of making a false statement to obtain an absentee ballot. Zapata is accused of using the state’s WisVote system to request three absentee ballots meant for military members and had them sent to Brandtjen’s home. She was fired just days before the election.

Zapata claims she was only trying to get Brandtjen’s attention, and redirect her focus from “outrageous conspiracy theories and to something that is actually real.” Brandtjen has chaired the Assembly committee that has spent the better part of the past two years investigating complaints and illegal activities in Wisconsin’s elections.

The lawmaker says there definitely is a real problem in the system: an outdated Wisconsin law that doesn’t require military voters to register to vote or provide a photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot.

Brandtjen said court proceedings just hours before last week’s election made it clear that there’s no way to verify the ballots, and there is currently no list that would allow election clerks to verify the names of overseas military members.

“The law that eliminated the registration requirement was put into place during the Vietnam War. Technology advances have made this antiquated law unnecessary and the proper security measures should be restored immediately, including ID and registration,” Brandtjen said.

Zapata showed that the system could be manipulated to, at the very least, request ballots in the name of military members.

Brandtjen joined Wisconsin veterans and voters in a lawsuit seeking Wisconsin military absentee ballots be sequestered to give clerks additional time to verify the legitimacy of the votes. Waukesha County Judge Michael Maxwell denied the motion for an injunction but raised serious questions about whether the Wisconsin Elections Commission was doing its job in informing election clerks about maintaining a list of eligible military voters.

“If WEC’s job on the 361 days we’re not administering an election can’t be to make sure that municipal clerks do their job, I’m not sure why we have that state agency at all,” he said.

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