Who Is Kept From the Polls by Voter ID Laws?

Todd Akin's nonsensical comments prove he may be mentally impaired, but voter ID laws target people of color, the poor, and students.

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This May 17, 2011 file photo shows U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate, in Creve Coeur, Mo. Akin said in an interview Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 with St. Louis television station KTVI that pregnancy from rape is "really rare." Akin, who has said he opposes all abortions, said in the interview if a woman is raped, her body "has ways to shut that whole thing down."

A homeless man, Peter Bis, who had become a friendly fixture on Capitol Hill for commuters and Hill workers, died this week of an apparent heart attack. He remembered people's names, asked about their kids, and always had something to say about current events—he knew a lot, acquaintances told the Washington Post, since he voraciously read newspapers he would fish out of the trash. He said some crazy things, too—that he was being persecuted by the government, that he had been Princess Diana's lover, that he was an alien from another galaxy. He even wore a baseball cap lined with lead and fixed with red lights, the Post noted. For this behavior and utterances, Bis was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Not diagnosed as mentally ill are people who believe equally nonsensical things despite ready evidence to the contrary. There are still large numbers of people who believe President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and when shown a birth certificate (an indignity the president was forced to endure in an overly-optimistic effort to set the record straight), they said it was a fake. We have a U.S. congressman and Senate candidate who believes that women can "shut down" a potential pregnancy if they are victims of "legitimate rape." There are Holocaust deniers, climate change deniers, and people who think reality TV is not scripted. These people are not deemed schizophrenic or otherwise impaired.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Should Todd Akin Drop Out of His Race After 'Legitimate Rape' Remarks?]

But under the rules being pushed in a number of states, it is Bis who wouldn't be able to vote. As a homeless man (who had, actually, attended a year of law school in his healthier days), Bis didn't have things like a driver's license or birth certificate. He had a pack of smokes and a cup of coffee. But people who are mentally well but willfully ignorant—those folks often have the paperwork that would be required to cast a vote in many states this fall.

We long ago got rid of literacy tests for voters, and rightly so, since the rules were intended to suppress the African-American vote. Now, the voter registration rules that have been approved in a number of states are also likely to suppress the votes of African-Americans, the elderly, students, and the poor. But those who believe lies that suit them? They're welcome at the polls.

  • Read Peter Roff: After 'Legitimate Rape' Comment, Todd Akin Should Resign From Race
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