Rand Paul: No ‘objective evidence’ African Americans are prevented from voting

August 14, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that there is no "objective evidence" that African-American voters are being disenfranchised in modern elections.

According to a tweet from Phillip M. Bailey of the Louisville-based NPR affiliate, WFPL-FM, Paul said the following:

The potential presidential candidate's comment comes amidst a brewing battle over voting rights.

Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have been passing new Voter ID laws and other measures, including a recent North Carolina bill that cuts back on early voting days. And the Supreme Court recently struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that gave the Justice Department the authority to approve or halt such changes in areas with a history of voter suppression.

Paul's comments come in contrast to another potential 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who said Monday, "Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention."

Democrats and minority groups have long contended that the GOP's efforts on things like Voter ID and early voting are aimed at suppressing the minority vote. They note that minority voters are more likely to not have photo ID and that they use in-person early voting at a higher rate than white voters (white voters are more likely to vote absentee when they vote early).

Republicans say measures like Voter ID are required to combat voter fraud and that efforts should be made to ensure everyone has valid identification -- something that vast majority of Americans sympathize with, including black voters.

A Washington Post poll last year showed 65 percent of African Americans supported the idea of Voter ID -- slightly less than white voters but still a sizeable majority.

But the same poll showed a similar number of black voters (63 percent) see voter suppression as a major problem -- compared to just 34 percent of white voters.

Minority groups have also pointed to longer wait times at heavily minority precincts as evidence that minority votes are being suppressed. An MIT study released after the 2012 election showed African Americans, on average, waited 23 minutes to vote, while white voters waited 12 minutes.

It's not clear that the difference has anything to do with Voter ID, though.

Paul pointed to high turnout among black voters in 2012 -- it outpaced turnout among whites for the first time ever -- and argued that places that had been required to obtain approval from the Justice Department for electoral changes have shown few signs of suppression.

"The interesting thing about voting patterns now is, in this last election, African-Americans voted at a higher percentage than whites in almost every one of the states that were under the special provisions of the federal government," Paul said, according to WFPL.

Paul has made an effort in recent months to reach out to minority voters, appearing at a couple of historically black colleges, including Washington's Howard University. Paul says Republicans, as the party of Abraham Lincoln, needs to do better at appealing to black voters.

Despite Paul's efforts, questions about race have come up several times in his political career. Paul recently stood by a staffer who once expressed pro-Confederate views (the staffer later resigned) and during his 2010 campaign he struggled with questions about whether he would have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later said that he would have.

Updated at 5:13 p.m.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · August 14, 2013