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Wisconsin State Employee Fired for Blowing the Whistle on Voter ID Poll Tax
This morning, Chris Larsen was fired for informing his colleagues at the DMV about the Wisconsin state Department of Transportation’s policy not offering free voter IDs to people unless they specifically asked to have the fee waived. If the fee isn’t waived, the Voter ID costs $28.00.
Yesterday, we learned (via a memo from the third in command at the DMV) about Wisconsin DMV’s internal policy of not telling voters about the ability to get a voter ID for free unless they ask for it. The fee waiver is a requirement under the new Voter ID law passed by Republicans last May in Wisconsin, in order to ensure the ID requirement was not an illegal Poll Tax.
At 9 AM this morning, Chris Larsen, a Limited Term Employee with the Department of Safety and Professional Services, was fired for sending out an email alerting his colleagues about the internal policy and the fact that voter IDs are free, after learning about the memo that specifically instructed employees to not tell voters about the free ID cards unless they asked.
Here’s the full text of Larsen’s email from the Journal Sentinel:
“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!!”
Chris sent his email to a “couple hundred” people in the building in which he worked around 6:45 AM. He was soon called into a meeting by his supervisor, during which he was told that sending the email was not “appropriate” and it would be best “if we parted ways at this point.”
An executive assistant at the Department of Safety and Professional Services declined to say why Larsen was fired but said the matter is under review. Larsen told Sly in the Morning that he had never been previously disciplined.
The Sly In The Morning radio show first broke the news this morning in an excellent interview with Chris shortly after his firing, which you can listen at the link.
The Memo from the third in command at the DMV told employees not to tell voters that the Voter ID was free, which only further suggests that the Wisconsin Voter ID law is being used as a Poll Tax. It is a provision of the Voter ID law that the voter ID is free in order that it not be considered a Poll Tax, which would be illegal.
The original memo sent to employees on July 1, the day the DMV started issuing free photo IDs, instructed employees not to volunteer information about the waiver. The Cap Times broke the story about the memo yesterday:
“While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it,” Krieser writes to employees.
Krieser, who was recently promoted to executive assistant to the DOT secretary, instructs staff that customers should “self certify” their eligibility for the free ID. They can do that, he writes, if they meet the documentation requirements; if they are at least 17 years old; if they have checked the correct certification box on the new forms; and, most significantly, if they are “asking for a product that is available for free issuance.
So, to recap, Larsen appears to have been fired for sending an email which clearly stated the rights of citizens under the new Voter ID law and reiterated the Department’s internal policy of not volunteering information about the waiver. The Republicans may see Larsen’s actions as insubordinate, but the firing of Larsen points out the problem with a party first mentality: A government employee’s first loyalty should be to the law and to the citizens, not to a party agenda and certainly not to knowingly staying silent if illegal actions are being taken to deny citizens of their most fundamental right, the right to vote.
Sly in the Morning reports a flood of support for Larsen since his public airing of his firing this morning. Let’s hope that justice prevails and that Larsen is rewarded as the hero of democracy that he appears to be, as it often seems the mere possession of integrity in a culture of corruption places a target on your back
I’d like to hear how Wisconsin Republicans justify this. Clearly, they intended the Voter ID law to be a Poll Tax and actively sought to get around the provision they added in order to avoid appearing to be enacting a Poll Tax. They should be embarrassed and ashamed for wanting to take the right to vote away from citizens, but instead they are blaming a low level state employee for telling other state employees about the law. I’m sure the Koch brothers are pleased, and after all, aren’t they the real constituents of Wisconsin?