Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate recently made some comments regarding voter ID laws which have riled up some conservatives and rightfully so. As anyone should be aware, I am very firmly in favor of voter ID laws. The Left will trot out statistics indicating that voting fraud is not a major problem in the United States. But, as anyone should be aware, statistics can be skewed and interpreted to support one’s view. There may not be too many instances of actual voter fraud, but a single case sullies an electoral outcome. Voter fraud is to the American political system what terrorism is to homeland security- they need to succeed only once to “win.” And there clearly are cases of voter fraud whether they are prosecuted or not which forms the basis of the Left’s interpretation of statistics on this issue. A perfect example was a local race here in New Jersey. A Democratic operative carried around what was later found to be invalid absentee ballots in the trunk of his car. When caught, he was charged with voter fraud. Because the prosecution erred along the way, the case was dismissed by the judge. To the Left, there is no voter fraud because there was no prosecution while totally ignorant of the fact that there were 300 invalid absentee ballots in the trunk of the car.
Since making his original comments, Rand Paul has walked back some of his statements in this area. The problem for Rand Paul is that he is speaking out of two sides of his mouth depending on the audience. While I have respect for the man for commenting on issues that some avoid, being a possible presidential candidate in two years requires that you not have to walk back comments ever. If he believed this would increase his support in minority populations, he is either seriously mistaken or just not smart. Comments from the DNC in response to his comments are indicative- they accused him of hypocrisy.
In some senses, some of Paul’s statements when it comes to race are somewhat correct. The use of military style tactics in Ferguson, Missouri were uncalled for. Drug laws do disproportionately affect minorities more than whites. Again, a perfect example is the disparity in sentencing guidelines regarding powder cocaine (preferred by whites) versus those for crack cocaine (preferred by minorities). And there are people who served their sentence for drug law violations in their past who are disenfranchised under felon laws- sentences that would likely not be meted out today. While it is understandable that a convicted rapist or bank robber or even a major drug dealer should be disenfranchised, it makes little sense to electorally punish those low level possessors especially with convictions in their distant past. But, even here Rand Paul runs into problems. Namely, how many convicted felons actually meet that definition? What are the particulars of the original conviction?
Getting to the voter ID laws themselves, Paul recently has stated there is nothing inherently racist about voter ID laws. Finally, a clear-cut truthful statement! Georgia and Mississippi are roughly equal in terms of the proportion of their populations which are minority. One state has a voter ID law (Georgia) while another (Mississippi) does not. Both states fall under the Voter Rights Act of 1965 as covered jurisdictions which found systemic racial discrimination in voting practices. In effect, although their overall populations differ, they are mirror states except for the presence of a voter ID law. Rand Paul and the Left needs to look at electoral reality here. Georgia’s minority voter turnout and participation exceeds that of Mississippi in every year since Georgia’s law went into effect. The reasons are simple. First, having a valid ID to vote has not presented a problem for anyone seeking such identification. It is ironic that civil rights groups claim that obtaining an ID is prohibitively expensive for some while that “some” carry around cell phones and drive SUVs, neither of which are necessarily cheap. Second, turnout and voter participation is higher in Georgia because everyone- black, white, Hispanic, Native American, male, female and everything else- is more assured of the validity of their votes and the entire process. And the same is true of every state that has a voter ID law.
Even with these laws, most people can cast a vote provisionally and provide identification later. Thus, where is the “disenfranchisement?” This is the argument and the facts that Rand Paul should be highlighting, not concentrating on the perception by some of voter ID laws.
If Rand Paul wants to win the vote of the San Francisco/New York/Chicago crowd, this is not the way to go about it and it is destined to failure regardless. Supporting laws that insure the integrity of any election- national, state, or local- and consistently citing the facts regarding these laws is more principled. Instead of coming off as understanding, Rand Paul comes off as pandering (which is never a good strategy to my way of thinking).