Rand Paul is right: Republicans need to cool down on voter ID

Most conservatives oppose gun registration because they fear what the government might do with that information. They are also suspicious of the motives behind it. Some conservatives have gone so far as to compare gun registration to Nazi Germany.

Gun registration advocates argue that we register our cars, pets, birth, death, marriage and countless other activities. Still, strong opposition to gun registration remains.

Many African-Americans oppose voter ID laws because they don’t trust the government’s motives or intentions. Around 25 percent of black Americans don’t have IDs. Many see this push as a throwback to the type of voter suppression that occurred during the segregation era.

Voter ID advocates argue that we have to show identification at the bank, to board a plane, to get a passport—for countless activities. Still, strong opposition to voter ID remains among minorities.

This enduring sentiment in the black community was something a group of African-American pastors were eager to impress on Senator Rand Paul last week. Paul emerged from that meeting to tell the New York Times, “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing.”

He added, “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

He’s right.

Perception is not only reality, but conservative obliviousness toward how minorities view voter ID has served to reinforce that reality.

In 2012, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele warned the same thing, “The way we have talked about (voter ID) and the way we have, in some cases, bragged about it has been tone-deaf and irresponsible.”

In 2013, former Secretary of State Colin Powell also had the same message for Republicans, “You say you want to reach out, you say you want to have a new message. You say you want to see if you can bring some of these voters to the Republican side. This is not the way to do it.”

Why would these two prominent black Republicans say this? Because they know that community. They know their community.

It’s what many black Americans think.

The question is, do Republicans care what black Americans think?

In politics, and in life, no one is going to listen to you unless you are willing to listen to them. No one is going to be open to your message or ideas if you show no interest in their perspective, their concerns and their unique circumstances.

Most firearm owners already endure some sort of gun control or regulation. But the extra step of gun registration is something they don’t like because they don’t understand the need, now, for this new measure.

Gun owners fear registry largely due to the fact they don’t trust the people eager to implement it. What are the “gun-grabbers” up to, exactly?

The same distrust applies to those pushing for voter ID, or as Col. Powell explained, “You need a photo ID. Well, you didn’t need a photo ID for decades before. Is it really necessary now?”

No one is going to convince conservative firearm owners, understandably, that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are asking for reasonable gun laws. Likewise, no one is going to be able to convince many black Americans that the Republican Party is being well-intentioned in its push for voter ID. After all, Republicans are not clamoring for absentee ballot reform, which amounted to about 15 percent of the vote in 2012 and has far greater potential for voter fraud.

This is not to say that simply because minority voters hold a majority or strong opinion on an issue of which conservatives might disagree, that conservatives must always capitulate.

But it is to say that if Republicans are genuinely interested in growing their party and reaching beyond their base they are going to have to learn to pick their battles.

What is more dangerous for the GOP—insisting on voter ID laws that might prevent massive election fraud that has yet to materialize, or turning off black voters for generations due to Republican insistence on voter ID?

Again, perception is reality and no matter your position on voter ID, Republicans have gone “too crazy” about it and they are “offending people,” whether they realize it or not.

Rand Paul realizes it. More Republicans should follow suit.


Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.


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