Paul: Voter ID laws 'offending people'

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Friday it is wrong for the GOP to get too wrapped up in voter identification laws because they are offending people, in particular African Americans. 

“Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Paul told The New York Times. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

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Democrats have blasted the effort in Republican states to enact strict voter identification laws, arguing they disproportionately affect minority voters. Paul acknowledged Friday that much of the animosity surrounding the debate centers on race. 

Republicans claim the laws are essential to combat voter fraud. In past comments, Paul has acknowledged fraud exists but that "Republicans may have overemphasized this. I don't know."

During an interview at the University of Chicago with David Axelrod last month, Paul said the attempt to limit early voting hours is a mistake on Republicans part but said voter identification laws continue to serve a purpose. 

"Here is the point conservatives make and it is a fairly valid point," he said. "If you are in government, I could never visit you or Eric Holder or anybody else without a drivers license. Is that not a minimal standard, particularly when we say we'll give you one for free?"

Many state with voters identification laws also allow those who cannot afford one to obtain a valid government ID for free. 

A total of 31 states have active voter identification laws. Courts recently struck down requirement in Wisconsin and Arkansas last month. On Thursday, Pennsylvania decided against appealing a decision that struck down its voter law last year. 

Paul was criticized during his first Senate election for signaling he might not have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, something he has backtracked from. During his time in the Senate he has continuously talked about broadening the GOP base. And he has advocated for restoring voting right to non-violent felons in his home state. He said that is the bigger issue. 

“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," he said. 

Paul's senior adviser Doug Stafford said Paul made the comments while having a larger discussion about restoring voting rights to felons and reforms to the criminal justice system. 

"In the course of that discussion, he reiterated a point he has made before that while there may be some instances of voter fraud, it should not be a defining issue of the Republican Party, as it is an issue that is perhaps perceived in a way it is not intended,” Stafford said in a statement Monday.  “In terms of the specifics of voter ID laws, Senator Paul believes it's up to each state to decide that type of issue.” 

— This story was updated May 12 to include Stafford's statement