Two Republican Leaders Give Up on Voter ID

By Brentin Mock May 12, 2014

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has been on a roll for African Americans lately. First, he came out in favor of restoring voting rights for people formerly convicted of felonies, then, last week, he commented in opposition to voter ID laws. 

"Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing," said Paul as reported May 9 in The New York Times. "I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people."

The comments appear part of a broader agenda on Paul’s part to appeal to African American voters, especially after a botched past on addressing civil rights concerns. But there are still dots he has yet to connect. On voting rights restoration vs. voter ID, he told The New York Times:

"The bigger issue actually is whether you get to vote if you have a felony conviction. 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."

It’s laudable that Paul is applying a racial justice justification to supporting rights restoration. But what he may fail to realize is that even if you end felony disenfranchisement laws, if a person returns from prison in a voter ID state, she or he still may have a difficult time voting. Police revoke and confiscate people’s licenses when arrested, and those ID’s aren’t always returned when leaving jail–or, if in jail long enough, they expire. Many lose both license and passport privileges when they fall behind in child support while in prison, with no chance of having those privileges restored until all back-pay is covered in some states. The path to society re-entry is not easy, and regaining ID is often one of the most difficult parts of that process.

In other voter ID news, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also threw in the towel on this issue when he decided not to appeal a court ruling that his voter ID law violated the state’s constitution.

Said Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa, "We should never have gotten to the point where the Corbett administration was deciding whether or not to appeal an unconstitutional law. The law, on its face, was inappropriate and it never should have been adopted."

Said Mike Rubin, attorney for the law firm Arnold & Porter, which helped fight the law in court: 

"Viviette Applewhite, Bea Bookler, and all of our other plaintiffs and witnesses stood up and fought for the right to vote for themselves and for all other Pennsylvanians. This month Viviette Applewhite–who marched with Dr. King for voting rights–will turn 95 years young. Today’s decision ensures that all voters in Pennsylvania will be able to vote and is certainly the most cherished birthday gift she will receive this year."