In statehouses across the country, Republicans have pushed for voter ID laws and tighter rules on early voting, ostensibly as a way of combating fraud. So it’s noteworthy that one GOP star, US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, has been at least mildly critical of these efforts. Last month at the University of Chicago, Paul said that the party “may have over-emphasized” claims of fraud in enacting restrictive voter ID laws. More recently, he told The New York Times, “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing . . . it’s offending people.” In particular, minority and low-income voters, who disproportionately lack driver’s licenses, say the laws are aimed at them.
Paul’s iconoclasm only goes so far. He still supports the idea of voter ID, as he took pains to clarify on Fox News. Nevertheless, he has also called for restoring voting rights to ex-felons and has criticized crack cocaine drug laws — issues of particular concern in black and Latino communities. His belief that Republicans “need to be aware of people’s feelings” on voter ID is well-placed. It’s not just a matter of PR, though; in some states, GOP officials have spoken openly of using voting restrictions to reshape swing-state electorates in ways that favor Republicans. Until Paul and other top GOP figures put a stop to such machinations, many voters are likely to remain skeptical.