On Friday, Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul became one of the highest-profiled elected Republicans to speak out against voter identification laws.
"Everybody's gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing. . . . I think it's wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it's offending people," Paul said at a gathering of black pastors in Memphis, Tennessee.
This represents a slight modification in Paul's position.
In 2013, Paul spoke at Howard University, an historically black college in, Washington D.C., and in response to a question, Paul said showing a driver's license "to have an honest election is not unreasonable."
In last week's meeting, Paul did not come out unequivocally against all voter identification laws, but he tied it to his desire to see restoration of voting rights to convicted felons:
"There's probably 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."
Opponents of voter identification laws sometimes compare them to poll taxes and literacy tests that were frequently levied against African-Americans to prevent them from voting. Other opponents point out that alleged cases of voter fraud are rare.In
North Carolina, one state where a voter identification law takes effect in 2016, 121 charges of voter fraud were made in 2012 out of nearly 7 million ballots cast in that year's primary and general elections -- far less than one percent of all ballots.
Over the past year, Paul has made numerous efforts to attract more voters to the Republican Party. In late 2013, he spoke in Detroit about "economic freedom zones" that would include cuts in personal and corporate income taxes. On that occasion, he said, "We need to be a more diverse party if we're ever going to win again. . . . We have to change or we won't win nationally again."
Paul, a possible presidential candidate in 2016, is likely noticing that Republicans have lost 5 of the last 6 popular votes in presidential elections and need to find more voters. The GOP's popular vote totals have fallen from an all-time high of 62 million in 2004 to 60 million in 2008 and just short of 61 million in 2012. Meanwhile, Democratic votes have increased from John Kerry's 59 million in 2004 to President Obama's 69 million and 65 million in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Regarding this and other issues, Paul says the party needs to be more inclusive. By speaking for the restoration of felon voting rights and critiquing his party on voter ID, Rand Paul continues voter outreach in that quest to bring more voters into the GOP.