State Employee fired after sending “Voter ID” email

John “Sly” Sylvester received the on-air phone call Thursday morning (“Sly in the Morning” AM1670 WTDY) from recently terminated State Employee Chris Larsen breaking the story. Larsen explained he had been fired for communicating a clarification to his fellow State Employees regarding the new Voter ID policy. This on the heels of an email from DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb instructing DOT employees to refrain from offering the IDs for free – they had to be requested, fueling accusations of voter suppression and poll tax (to those who unknowingly pay for the ID).  Chris Larsen sent the following email from his office computer at The Department of Safety and Professional Services to his fellow State Employees in the 1400 East Washington Building:

Do you know someone who votes that does not have a State ID that meets requirements to vote? Tell them they can go to the DMV/DOT and get a free ID card. However they must ask for the free ID. a memo was sent out by the 3rd in command of the DMV/DOT. The memo specifically told the employees at the DMV/DOT not to inform individuals that the ID’s are free. So if the individuals seeking to get the free ID does not ask for a free ID, they will have to pay for it!! 

          Just wanted everyone to be informed!!  REMEMBER TO TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW!! ANYONE!! EVEN IF THEY DON’T NEED THE FREE ID, THEY MAY KNOW SOMEONE THAT DOES!! SO TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW!! 

Christopher J. Larsen

Department of Safety & Professional Services

Phone: 608.267.3815

Email: Chris.Larsen@wisconsin.gov 

In a phone interview with Badger Democracy, Larsen explained what happened next. Following the delivery of the email, Larsen was “called out of his cubicle” by his immediate supervisor Martha Zydowski , and led into the office of Division head, Jim Parker. He was told that Secretary Ross would be “very unhappy” with the email, and it would be better for them to separate his employment. The reason he was given for separation was “you shouldn’t use state email for those purposes.” Larsen then cleaned out his cubicle and was escorted out of the building.

Since that interview, Badger Democracy received information from DSPS sources that the Department is preparing to claim Larsen was in fact fired for “prior infractions.” Larsen stated unequivocally that he never received a written reprimand, nor did he ever sign acknowledgement of receipt of any reprimand. In fact, his LTE status had recently been renewed. None of Larsen’s prior supervisors in DSPS would comment on the record. In addition, John Murray, Executive Assistant to the Secretary is handling all statements regarding this action. He stated the Department has “no comment on personnel matters,” and that the action is “currently under review.”

This action against Chris Larsen presents two significant concerns. The first is the right to express and communicate accurate information to fellow state employees within the system without fear of retribution. Larsen’s email was only to staff in his building at 1400 East Washington Avenue. The email was not political in nature – it was to inform as to the policy and suggest communicating that information accurately. The email did not tell employees at the DMV counters to tell people the IDs are free – which would have been insubordination, it was merely non-political and accurate information. Free speech rights should still be applicable in State Government work environments.

The second is more nefarious. This action goes further than any previous to confirm the motive behind this law – voter suppression. It is obvious by this action the Walker Administration is desperate to have this law do what they intended – prevent as many people as possible from obtaining voter IDs for free, thus disenfranchising their vote through a “poll tax” of information omission. Further yet, preventing those who cannot afford it from getting a voter ID at all, complete disenfranchisement of the poor. The case of Chris Larsen has exposed, in real terms, the agenda and desperation for power behind the GOP Voter ID law.

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10 thoughts on “State Employee fired after sending “Voter ID” email

  1. DMV workers in Wisconsin are following their marching orders from “The Powers That Be” — GOP lawmakers and Walker. You can be denied a Voter ID card for having a lack of “bank activity.” In this video taken in the Sheboygan Ave. DMV in Madison, the supervisor admits that they have orders not to tell people that the Voter ID cards are free:

    • This IS the equivalent of a poll tax. This IS disenfranchisement of voters. I went to renew my driver’s license today, and I will say there were signs up. Two TINY little signs in English only. This was on the south side of Milwaukee; it’s safe to presume Spanish-speaking people use the facility. It would be nice to provide at least one sign in Spanish; better yet to post larger signs in other languages as well.

      • I completely agree. This is the modern-day equivalent of the infamous “poll tax” and it is shameful. Mr. Larsen should get his job back, with any pay he’s missed due to them unfairly firing him. There’s such a thing as the “whistleblower protection act” (a federal statute) that he should look into; he needs to get to a lawyer with a background in such things ASAP.

        The only good thing is that we Wisconsin political activists are not going to take this lying down, which is why posts like these are important. Thanks much to the folks here at Badger Democracy for getting this story out.

  2. Unfortunately, being an LTE, even the union would have a difficult time supporting him….irregardless…..i wonder if “whilstleblower” protections could protect him?? He did not relay any information that was given to him via memo..and the memo was not identified as “confidential, for agency eyes only”….so it should be common knowledge anyway….I think Mr Larson is due for some renumeration for his quick eviction!!!! now thats saving money for the state!! HA!!

    • What an arrogant post, VickiB! Either that, or ignorant or MISinformed. Any law that PURPOSELY makes it harder for ANYONE to vote violates the Poll Tax prohibition in spirit at least. The TINY signs posted IN ENGLISH ONLY are just such measures, and the signs were only put up after the first complaints were made.

      Scott Walker (and it seems YOU) want to suppress Likely-Democratic voters … at it seems you will go to ANY lengths to do it and say it was right.

      And you are wrong as well. Larson did tell a lie. He was instead marshalling those who had to now follow this wrong-headed policy to tell people (people they KNEW, not “DMV customers”) they had to ask. NOT to tell people they had to pay, but that they had to ASK for the free ID.

  3. Every communication in a governmental agency, except for personnel information, is public information. Think of Chris Larsen’s email in that light.

    It is also significant that he was not told not to communicate what was in the memo.

    This is absolutely a poll tax and is obviously intended as such…how many poor, elderly people can even get to a DMV to apply for an ID?

  4. Citizens should take it upon themselves to make LARGE signs and place them anywhere they can get away with it. If we can post for rummage sales, we can do this. Freedom of information is not subversion.

  5. sad part is nonef this will make any difference.The republicans will win and keep winning as long as the rich and powerful can pay for it. The poor the elderly and the workers DO NOT matter to this country anymore.

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