Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a tea party senator with a long history of opposition to civil rights laws, told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky on Wednesday that there is no evidence of black voters being excluded from the franchise. According to local NPR host Phillip Bailey, Paul said that he does not believe “there is any particular evidence of polls barring African Americans from voting,” during a speech to the non-partisan Louisville Forum.
If Paul is not aware of the evidence indicating widespread efforts to prevent African Americans from voting, then he must not be looking very hard. During the 2012 election, black and Hispanic voters waited nearly twice as long to cast a ballot as white voters. In Florida, lines of up to six hours led an estimated 201,000 people to become frustrated and leave the polls. These lines existed largely because of a voter suppression bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) which reduced early voting hours in the state. After the election, top Republicans admitted that the purpose of cutting early voting was to reduce Democratic turnout. One Republican operative conceded that early voting was cut on the Sunday proceeding Election Day because “that’s a big day when the black churches organize themselves.”
Meanwhile, voter ID laws are rampant in states led by conservatives, despite the fact that these laws cannot be justified by any legitimate purpose. Although their proponents routinely claim that an ID requirement is necessary to prevent voter fraud at the polls, such fraud barely exists. According to one study, just 0.0023 percent of votes are the product of in person voter fraud. Meanwhile, even conservative estimates suggest that 2 to 3 percent of legitimate voters will turn turned away by a voter ID law — and these voters are disproportionately African American.
It is certainly true that some forms of voter suppression, such as poll taxes or sham literacy tests, are now prohibited. But lawmakers determined to keep African Americans from voting have always been highly adaptive and capable of devising new ways to suppress the vote. Indeed, President Lyndon Johnson warned that this was the case when he proposed the Voting Rights Act to a joint session of Congress — “every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny” the right to vote, Johnson told Congress. The rise of new techniques of preventing disfavored groups from voting is not the least bit surprising in the wake of Roberts Court’s recent hostility to voting rights, which has made it far easier for voter suppression laws to go into effect.
In any event, it is not at all surprising that Paul has not taken the time to educate himself on the subject of voting rights before claiming that African American voters are not being targeted. During his initial race for the U.S. Senate, Paul admitted that he opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters. Denying African Americans’ their equal rights, Paul explained, “is the hard part about believing in freedom.”