In a 4-2 vote, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has dismissed complaints filed by neighbors of Rep. Shannon Zimmerman alleging he doesn’t live in the district he serves.
After a closed session, the commission notified complainants Thursday that it “finds that there is no reasonable suspicion that a violation of Wis. Stat. §§ 12.05 and 12.13 has occurred, and the matter has been dismissed.”
When Zimmerman was first elected to represent District 30 in 2016, he told reporters he had changed his “main residence” from his town of Clifton home to one in River Falls. He lists a River Falls home as his voting address and has said he lives there with his son, attorney Nick Zimmerman. However, complaints made by neighbors of that address allege he hasn’t actually moved there.
Three citizens — two Clifton residents and one River Falls neighbor — filed individual complaints, which included sworn affidavits from two more River Falls neighbors.
Complainants pointed to property tax records showing Zimmerman has listed the Clifton address as his “primary residence” — indicating he lives there at least half the year — when claiming a lottery tax credit every year since 2003. After telling reporters in September this was an "oversight," he claimed it again in November, records show.
Filings for a business he owns in Florida, which he did not disclose as a legislator, list the Clifton home as his mailing address. During the pandemic, his video appearances and social media photos appeared to show the Clifton home in the background. Neighbors of the River Falls house say they only see cars driven by Nick Zimmerman and his fiancee regularly come to and from the house, and not Rep. Zimmerman, the complaints show.
Rep. Zimmerman has previously called the complaints “frivolous” and says he lives at the River Falls address. He did not respond to a request for comment earlier this week. His response to WEC is not public.
"We're bending over backwards to prove the sky is blue," said Hudson attorney Sarah Yacoub, who ran as a Democrat against Zimmerman in 2020 and filed an affidavit to accompany one of the complaints. “For [the WEC] to say there was not reasonable suspicion is such an ugly slap in the face for all the witnesses ... Why we have an elections commission that deals with voter and election fraud in secret is baffling, and it’s wrong."
According to Wisconsin state statute and constitution:
- Voters must have resided within the district they are voting in for at least 28 consecutive days leading up to the election.
- A voter's residence is defined as "the place where the person's habitation is fixed, without any present intent to move, and to which, when absent, the person intends to return."
- Public officials must live in the district they were elected to represent by the time they take office.
- Voting in elections, or holding office, in a district one does not reside in is considered a felony.
- Per the state constitution, anyone convicted of a felony is barred from holding public office.
Jay Heck, director of the nonpartisan voter rights group Common Cause Wisconsin, said it falls on legal experts to interpret and apply the statute to Zimmerman's situation. Either way, he said, Zimmerman owes clarity to his constituents.
"He needs to be forthcoming about what the situation is so that his constituents know where exactly where his primary residence is and they can make a judgement as to whether they think that’s fine or not," he said.
'This just seems really blatant'
Yacoub, an attorney, says the state statute isn't hard to interpret.
"We shouldn’t be conditioned into expecting corruption and incompetence," Yacoub said. "Do we really want to set the precedent of: rich people can buy houses wherever they want and run in whichever district?"
One of the complainants, Dana Linscott, of Clifton, said he first met Zimmerman from living in the community. As an "independent conservative," he said in 2016, he was originally interested in voting for Zimmerman until he realized Zimmerman wasn't running in District 93, which represents Clifton. He filed the complaint four years later, when Zimmerman still had yet to clarify the discrepancies between his property tax and voting records.
“This just seemed really blatant,” he said.
Only Linscott and Yacoub have come forward publicly. Both say the four other involved with the complaints fear retaliation.
The WEC is comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans, including former state Rep. Dean Knudson, who preceded Zimmerman and has publicly supported him. Yacoub and other Democrats had called for him to recuse himself from the vote.
Had the WEC voted that it found reasonable suspicion of violating election law, the motion wouldn’t have had immediate legal consequences for Zimmerman. Instead, the complaint would have been forwarded to a district attorney, who then could choose to review it.
“I had no hope whatsoever, given the setup of the WEC, that there would be a conviction,” Linscott said.