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Real threat to Wisconsin voters worse than 'militia'

Despite reports of a possible Wisconsin "militia" preparing to intimidate voters, activists say restrictive new voter ID law is the real threat.
A man goes over his ballot at the Martin Luther King elementary school on November 6, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A man goes over his ballot at the Martin Luther King elementary school on November 6, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Conservative activists in Wisconsin are reportedly planning to intimidate African-American voters on Election Day, but that plot is far from concrete. Instead, voting rights advocates are focused on a far more definite threat at the polls — the state's restrictive new voter ID law.

On Monday, Talking Points Memo reported on a Facebook discussion between a group calling itself the “Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia." The conversation included individuals who were interested in following voters in minority-heavy cities to their homes and trying to catch people with outstanding warrants when they head to the polls. And according to a Capitol Times report from Sunday, the group also said they “prefer our people be armed.”

The Facebook page grabbed attention, but according to voting rights advocates in the state, voters should be more worried about the new restrictions on voting rights than possible vigilantes.

“I saw it on a few local news outlets here, but have not witnessed it yet myself,” Mike Wilder of Wisconsin Voices, a Milwaukee-based group that is working on raising awareness of the new law’s requirements, told msnbc in an email. “We are keeping an eye out closely for this.” When it comes to protecting African-American voters, Wilder also said that the Wisconsin African-American Civic Engagement Table, a coalition of 15 organizations in the state, is already working to make sure communities know about the new law and know how and where to get acceptable identification.

More than 300,000 people could be affected by the ID law, which Republican Governor Scott Walker signed in 2011. Walker is currently tied in the polls with Democrat Mary Burke, although he has a slight lead among likely voters.

Voters who plan to vote using absentee ballots must now include copies of a valid photo ID. Approximately 200 ballots have already been returned and are at risk of being invalidated if the voters don’t take that extra step.

There has never been a documented case of in-person voter fraud in the state of Wisconsin. 

“The sad thing is that the real threat to voting are actually much worse, and have been put into place by Scott Walker and his Republican allies,” Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, told msnbc. Ross’ group has filed an amicus brief asking the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear arguments on Wisconsin’s voter ID law. A three judge panel said that the law was constitutional, overturning a lower court.

“The ending of weekend voting and early voting, the restriction fo early voting hours, registration and proving residency, this will deny three sets of voters: students and young people, people of color, and seniors,” Ross said, all groups that skew heavily towards Democrats.

With a little more than a month until the election, voters without acceptable identification — a group that includes veterans and students who have just gone to college, minority voters, and seniors — must find time to visit one of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices to obtain IDs. Of 92 DMV offices, 31 are open during regular business hours and only 3 are open on weekends, so availability is limited. Some are open only a few times a month. As of now, there are no plans to extend hours at any locations.