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Rand Paul Warns Republicans That Voter ID Emphasis Is ‘Offending People’

Rand Paul Filibuster

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took a decidedly different tone on the issue of Voter ID from his fellow Republicans during a speech yesterday in Memphis:

MEMPHIS — Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky broke Friday with fellow Republicans who have pushed for stricter voting laws as a way to crack down on fraud at the polls, saying that the focus on such measures alienates and insults African-Americans and hurts the party.

“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Mr. Paul said in an interview. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

Mr. Paul becomes the most prominent member of his party — and among the very few — to distance himself from the voting restrictions and the campaign for their passage in states under Republican control, including North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, that can determine presidential elections. Civil rights groups call the laws a transparent effort to depress black turnout.

Speaking here in a mostly black and Democratic city with its own painful history of racism, Mr. Paul said that much of the debate over voting rights had been swept up in the tempest of racial politics.

The senator has had his own struggles with civil rights issues, hedging at times on his support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, notably, he did not on Friday denounce voter ID laws as bad policy or take back previous statements in which he had said it was not unreasonable for voters to be required to show identification at the polls. He says these laws should be left to the states. (Kentucky does not have a restrictive voter identification statute.)

Instead, in his comments, he suggested that Republicans had been somewhat tone deaf on the issue. In the last three years, the voting rights fight has extended to more than 30 states and taken on a more partisan tone. The measures that have passed or are under consideration vary. Some require that voters come to the polls with a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship. Others would cut back on early voting.

(…)

Mr. Paul’s remarks seem certain to stir up concern among Republicans over whether the senator — a libertarian-minded ophthalmologist who was first elected to public office three years ago — can appeal to the conservative voters who have so much influence in selecting the nominee.

He is not getting much support from Republican leaders in his efforts to change the discussion or the party’s tone. Colin L. Powell and Michael Steele, the former party chairman, have spoken against the restrictions. But no ranking Republican has done so, and there was no indication Friday that any would change their minds.

(…)

N.A.A.C.P. officials said they were encouraged that a prominent Republican would challenge his party. “But the proof is always in the pudding in terms of seeing exactly what policies and measures he might support as an elected official,” said Jotaka Eaddy, the group’s senior director of voting rights.

Mr. Paul is on a cross-country tour, stopping in Democratic strongholds like Chicago and Detroit where it might not seem obvious for a conservative Republican to seek out an audience.

After his meeting with the pastors in Memphis, Mr. Paul traveled a few blocks to address the Republican gathering, but he made no mention of voting rights. Instead, he hit on the message that the party needed to soften its edges and show more sympathy to populations that have felt overlooked and maligned by Republicans.

In the interview, Mr. Paul also stressed his commitment to restoring voting rights for felons, an issue that he said black crowds repeatedly brought up during his speeches.

“The bigger issue actually is whether you get to vote if you have a felony conviction,” he said. “There’s 180,000 people in Kentucky who can’t vote. And I don’t know the racial breakdown, but it’s probably more black than white because they’re convicted felons. And I’m for getting their right to vote back, which is a much bigger deal than showing your driver’s license.”

Paul’s comments here seem addressed as much to messaging as to policy, if not more so. As noted, he didn’t call on Republicans at the state level to abandon the push for voter ID laws that began with the Republican sweep of state legislative elections in 2010, nor did he seriously question the central premise behind those laws that there is a problem with in-person voter fraud that requires the adoption of these laws. Instead, Paul is essentially saying that the way that Republicans are communicating their position on this issue, combined with the manner in which they are aggressively pursuing the passage of Voter ID laws in state after state is hurting its reputation among minority and younger voters, which raises the question of whether this policy push is good for the party in the long run. Obviously, to those who are opposed to Voter ID laws, as well as the minority audiences that Paul is obviously trying to reach out to aren’t going to see this as being good enough. As the statement from the N.A.A.C.P. notes, the real question is whether or not Paul would support such provisions as an elected official. And, much like his “state’s rights” response on same-sex marriage, deferring this matter isn’t likely to be good enough.

In any case, Paul does deserve some credit for speaking out on an issue that few other Republicans have felt free to do so. Moreover, even though I tend to support Voter ID laws for reasons I’ve noted before, I believe Paul is correct that the right has hurt itself with the push it has made on this issue. As I’ve noted before, there is little actual evidence that in-person voter fraud, which is the only thing that Voter ID laws would be capable of combating, is incredibly rare. Given that, it hardly seems like something that should be a top legislative priority given all of the other issues that state legislatures have to do deal with. Moreover, to the extent that pushing the issue heavily can be said to causing harm to the Republican Party it strikes me that they are pursuing a self-defeating strategy by emphasizing it.

Reacting to Paul’s comments yesterday on Twitter, MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin raised this interesting take:

That brought this comment from Hot Air’s Allahpundit:

One of the reasons Perry got nuked in 2012 was his “you don’t have a heart” comment on in-state tuition for illegals. He got pounded for it in the primaries, including by Mitt “Self-deportation” Romney, and then Democrats turned around and pounded Romney on immigration. You might see the same thing on voter ID. Rand calls for a stand-down, Cruz or Rubio or Jeb or whoever tears him apart over it en route to the nomination, and then in the general election Democrats tear that guy apart for tearing Rand apart.

Could Voter ID become to the 2016 campaign what immigration was in 2012? It’s certainly possible, and it if happens it would be comments like this from Rand Paul that lights the fire and causes the GOP to do itself more harm than good.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Mr. Paul said in an interview. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

    Translation:
    “You guys, please shut-up about this issue until after the 2014 elections are over, okay?”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  2. You might see the same thing on voter ID. Rand calls for a stand-down, Cruz or Rubio or Jeb or whoever tears him apart over it en route to the nomination, and then in the general election Democrats tear that guy apart for tearing Rand apart.

    You know, there’s an obvious way for “Cruz or Rubio or Jeb or whoever” to avoid that trap…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  3. DrDaveT says:

    Mr. Paul’s remarks seem certain to stir up concern among Republicans over whether [he] can appeal to the conservative voters who have so much influence in selecting the nominee.

    Can we please stop using the word ‘conservative’ to mean “racist or retarded or Republican or some of each”? Those are the only three categories of people who think voter ID laws are an important issue — racists because they help keep blacks from voting; Republicans because they help keep the urban poor from voting, and retards because they still think in-person voter fraud is a serious enough problem that it’s worth disenfranchising real voters to do something about it.

    I tend to support Voter ID laws for reasons I’ve noted before

    I missed that, Doug. Which of the three R’s are you?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  4. george says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I agree that its not an important issue. I’ll note in passing that Canada and from what I’ve heard most European countries actually have long had such voter ID laws (ie they’re not necessarily related to being racist, against the poor, or being retarded), but I’ll add that all those countries give out free applicable ID so it doesn’t exclude anyone (in fact one of the pieces of ID which works is your gov’t issued health care card).

    And both left and right wings in those countries agree that such laws are just common sense.

    But the rate of fraud is so low there’s no reason for it to be a pressing issue in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. walt moffett says:

    lets hope it ignites a fire of reflection. There is an increasing trend in goverment of mistrust of citizentry that needs to stop. Though handing my license to a stone deaf poll worker does help speed up the line and is no worse than the current trend of retailers to require ID’s for alcohol and tobacco products no matter what.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  6. M. Bouffant says:

    I tend to support Voter ID laws for reasons I’ve noted before

    there is little actual evidence that in-person voter fraud, which is the only thing that Voter ID laws would be capable of combating, is incredibly rare

    I assume you mean “there is little actual evidence of in-person fraud,” in which case, in light of the other statement, ???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. Kylopod says:

    And, much like his “state’s rights” response on same-sex marriage, deferring this matter isn’t likely to be good enough.

    Much like his “states rights” response on SSM, and much like several other issues, Paul is talking out of both sides of his mouth:

    “Paul supports the [Christian Coalition] survey question on [a constitutional amendment] banning same-sex marriage.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @al-Ameda:

    The real translation is that all of the push for voter ID has done nothing but increase black voter turn out. If the Republicans want to decrease voter turn, they have to avoid issues that blacks care more about than whites do. Most middle class white voters do not care about voter ID laws because they are, as a group, better at managing their identities. Thus, whites do not care.

    However, black politicians start talking voter ID laws first because most of them care about nothing but getting voters to vote. Black politicians do not have to appeal to Republican leaning voters and do not care how much they irritated those voters.

    Of course, in the long run, blacks will eventually get what they think they want in the U.S. being as one party dominated as the current HBC districts are today. The only question then is what will the impact of the U.S. being a one party state be on blacks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  9. superdestroyer says:

    A question that progressives need to answer is if asking for a government issued ID is bad for voting, then why is it OK to demand ID for jury duty, for boarding a plane, for entering many government buildings, or when one purchases a home or signs a rental agreement?

    Why should voting be the one time that the government does not ask for an ID?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 11

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @ DM:

    nor did he seriously question the central premise MYTH behind those laws that there is a problem with in-person voter fraud that requires the adoption of these laws.

    FTFY Doug. Your welcome, happy to be of service. And today is your lucky day as it is free of charge!

    I have noticed lately that so many GOP policies are based on pure mythology:

    Trickle down economics (Voodoo economics. thank you, GHWB)
    Anything to do with the death penalty.
    Neo-con foreign policy
    Racism
    Regulations
    Corporate policy
    etc etc

    Conservatism, wishful thinking since the beginning of time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  11. humanoid.panda says:

    @george: In Israel, one receives an invitation to get an ID card at age 16, free of charge, an is obligated by law to carry it when they turn 18. If the US had a similar system, then obviously voter ID laws would not have been a controversial issue.
    [By the way, despite all this, in person fraud in Israel is much more common there than in US. Basically, lots of ultra-orthodox Americans come for year or two of Yeshiva studies, get Israeli citizenship, and leave. When leaving,they leave their ID card with a friend who votes for them. The reason this works is because poll-watchers in ultra-orthodox communities are in on the scam,as they are all part of a tight community that needs every vote it can cobble in a fight for resources. The lesson is always: it's the vote counters, not the voters who are instrumental for fraud.]

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  12. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: Because:

    A) many of the things you listed are not governmental function (renting an apartment)
    B) Other things on your list are not fundamental rights (flying)
    C) Since millions of people don’t have the forms of ID you think are necessary for everyday activities, turns out those requirements are not as universal as you imagine. West Philly has lots of people who don’t drive or fly, thus rarely if ever needing the most common form of picture ID- the driver’s license. I know that you and people like don’t really consider them citizens, or for that matter,fully human, but the 14th amendment begs to disagree,as does the federal judge who threw the Pennsylvania voter ID out the window on the grounds I just laid out.
    Anymore questions for progressives?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Leasing an apartment means signing a contract and thus, is a governmental function. Considering all of the fair housing laws, virtually everything

    Being able to travel is a fundamental right in the U.S. and the government seems to have no problem demanding an identity to get there. How can someone in Hawaii visit another state with proper identity.

    Most everyone has proper identity. The problem is that many people do not like showing the government their proper identity because so many people have legal (civil and criminal) issues along with credit and debt issues.

    I see you also skipped over the jury duty. If it is important to make sure the correct person appeared for jury duty then why not follow the same procedures for voting. And yes, both are mentioned in the Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Leasing an apartment means signing a contract and thus, is a governmental function.

    Me thinks you are a little confused as to what exactly comprises “government.” I have signed THOUSANDS of contracts in my life, MANY of them without showing ID, and NEVER a governmental official was involved (except buying my houses, and that was after the fact)(as far as I know). Next?

    Being able to travel is a fundamental right in the U.S. and the government seems to have no problem demanding an identity to get there. How can someone in Hawaii visit another state with proper identity.

    Uhhh, swim? Row a boat? Driving is a privilege. Flying is a privilege@superdestroyer: . If you can not tell the difference between a “right” and a “privilege” I probably can’t help you much.

    Most everyone has proper identity.

    But you can tell the difference between “most” and “all.”

    @superdestroyer:

    I see you also skipped over the jury duty.

    But you also have difficulty with the difference between a “right” and a “duty.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  15. humanoid.panda says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Bravo, sir! All I an add is a link to this little story that encapculates Superdestroyer’s attitude towards the constitution: http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-passionate-defender-of-what-he-imagines-c,2849/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: And sorry, but I can’t let you get away with lying about a crucial point:

    Most everyone has proper identity.

    That is true, to the extent that everyone usuall have some form of ID, even a social security card, that they can show when they need to. However, two judges, one in Pennsylvania and one in Wisconsin found that in both states, there are hundreds of thousands of registered voters that don’t have the specific types of IDs required for voting under Voter ID laws. You can philosophize as much as you want, but you can’t spin facts away from existence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  17. george says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Most everyone has proper identity.

    No, the problem is that not everyone (which is different than ‘most everyone’) who is eligible to vote has proper ID.

    If the people pushing for showing voter ID were simultaneously pushing for free, easy to get voter ID to everyone then this should be a non-issue. That doesn’t seem to be happening.

    As said, in most western countries at least, showing ID to vote is considered common sense. In those same countries, the gov’t issuing such ID free of charge is likewise considered common sense. The result is that across the political spectrum, no one in those countries is against having to show proper ID to vote.

    The US situation is just odd all around – its hard to fathom how anyone could be without proper gov’t issued ID in a western country today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. C. Clavin says:

    @superdestroyer:
    Being able to fly is a fundamental right???
    Fool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  19. DrDaveT says:

    Snark aside, Doug, could you link back to a past article on voter ID legislation so that we can reacquaint ourselves with your arguments for why you favor it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    a link to this little story

    Heh. All too true for all too many.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. David in KC says:

    @C. Clavin: If they like it, it’s a right, if they don’t it isn’t. While not intellectually honest, it is pretty simple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    If you live in Hawaii or Alaska, then flying is fundamental to being about to move about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  23. humanoid.panda says:

    @superdestroyer: So, how about someone unable to afford airline tickets? How about people in rural areas who can’t afford cars and/or gas? Homeless people in urban areas who can’t get on buses? All these people can’t move around much due to lak of funds, so according to you, their fundamental rights are being violated. Should they sue the government for redress of this problem? I definitely don’t think so and I am a progressive devotee of the one party entitelement state..
    Seriously, you are embarassing yourself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  24. Grewgills says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Seriously, you are embarassing yourself.

    I don’t think that’s possible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  25. Tillman says:

    His timing is bad. If he had come out saying this when the laws were first being debated in state legislatures, his voice might have had impact. But coming out now with this casts him as someone who waited to see how the winds would shift. He comes off as an opportunist poo-pooing his own party over an issue after the fact. He doesn’t deserve [a lot of] commendation for taking a stance now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  26. stonetools says:

    Doug’s position represents the defeat of an idea that might be acceptable in the abstract but which is wrong in actual implementation. Sure, in some Platonic parallel universe voter ID laws might be a good idea but here in Earth Prime America, “voter ID” laws are just in reality schemes to suppress voting by the poor and minorities. That’s why judges like Posner and Stephens changed their minds about voter ID laws-they looked at the EVIDENCE of how it was implemented. I would invite Doug to do the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  27. stonetools says:

    @george:

    As said, in most western countries at least, showing ID to vote is considered common sense. In those same countries, the gov’t issuing such ID free of charge is likewise considered common sense. The result is that across the political spectrum, no one in those countries is against having to show proper ID to vote.

    I guarantee you that if the US courts mandated that the state governments issue IDs truly free of charge, the Republican legislatures now pushing voter IDs would turn around and oppose voter ID laws as unnecessary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  28. Grewgills says:

    @stonetools:
    Nah, they would just make noise about judicial activism and federal overreach to oppose universal ID while still pushing voter ID laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0