Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) gaffe about "legitimate rape" and abortion on Sunday overshadowed other comments the Senate hopeful made about state and federal involvement in elections.
When asked by Charles Jaco of Fox 2 in St. Louis about the legal fight between Texas and federal officials over the state's new voter ID law, Akin said he thinks it's a "good principle" for states to retain control. The Justice Department has tried to block Texas from implementing the law, which requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID before they can cast a ballot, and Attorney General Eric Holder has compared the law to "poll taxes."
Well, first of all when you talk about elections, specifically, elections historically have always been a state thing. And I didn't realize how important or how good that was until we had that very close race, that second race with George Bush, and you had something that goes wrong in Florida. And I'm thinking, it sure is good the states manage this and not the federal government otherwise you have to rehold the whole election process. So I do think the states having a say in terms of how they do the voting in their own state. That was a good principle laid down in the past.
Jaco also asked him whether he thought the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were outdated. "In general, do you think the country has moved beyond, in terms of race relations, the days when Jim Crow would deny black folks the right to vote and therefore you had to have the Civil Rights Act, you had to have a Voting Rights Act?" Jaco asked.
"Let me say I think we've come a very long way from those days, a very long way," said Akin, who is trying to unseat Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. "But I think we need to make sure that everybody has a right to vote -- once. That is everybody has a right to vote once. That's every living person has a right to vote once."
Many Republicans have cited this kind of electoral fraud, in which the same person votes more than once, as the primary rationale for voter ID laws. But studies have shown that in-person voter ID fraud is so rare that it is virtually nonexistent. One report released last week found just 10 cases of in-person voter ID fraud going back to 2000 -- a period in which more than 600 million ballots were cast in presidential elections alone. New ID laws have been passed in 11 states since Republicans took over state houses in the 2010 elections and are now on the books in at least 32 states.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created federal protections for citizens, particularly African Americans, so that they were not disenfranchised by state and local officials who set up barriers -- like poll taxes and literacy tests -- to the ballot box. One provision of the act requires that certain states and counties with a history of disenfranchisement seek federal approval before they can implement changes in their voting rules. The act has faced a flurry of legal challenges in recent years as many Republicans, including Akin, have argued that it infringes on states' rights. (Missouri is not one of the states that must get federal approval, called "preclearance.")
But critics of the voter ID laws have said that they mainly impact black, Latino, young and poor voters -- groups that are less likely to have official state identification and tend to vote for Democrats.
Akin's office released a statement after the interview that the congressman does indeed support people's right to vote.
"Congressman Todd Akin believes that the right to vote is fundamental to our country," the statement said. "He supports laws that protect these rights and did not say that he was opposed to the ‘civil rights and voting rights' laws. Akin has, and always will, support the right to vote."
Akin's aversion to federal involvement in what he sees as local issues extends beyond elections. Last week, he said that he did not think that the federal government should help pay for the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced-price lunches for poor children.
"Is it something the federal government should do,” Akin said at the Missouri State Fair on Friday. “I answer it no ... I think the federal government should be out of the education business."