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Rand Paul: Cutting early voting 'a dumb idea'

“My position is I want more people to vote, not less,” the Kentucky senator said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) walks on stage before speaking at the 2014 Values Voter Summit Sept. 26, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) walks on stage before speaking at the 2014 Values Voter Summit Sept. 26, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Backed by the Supreme Court, Republicans are looking to crack down on early voting. But one of the party's potential 2016 front-runners doesn't sound like he's on board.

“I think it’s a dumb idea to spend a lot of time on Republicans trying to change early voting,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told the Associated Press in an interview published Tuesday. “My position is I want more people to vote, not less.”

Late Monday, the Supreme Court ordered that Republican-backed cuts to early voting will go into effect for this year's election, despite a ruling by a federal judge that they're racially discriminatory. The GOP also has cut early voting in North Carolina and in Wisconsin, among other states.

In the AP interview, Paul also acknowledged that many African-Americans think the GOP is trying to make it harder for them to vote.

“I’ve cautioned Republicans, ‘You need to be aware of peoples’ perceptions,'” he said. “If the perception is out there, why don’t you start talking about something good, like restoring peoples’ right to vote?” 

Paul's comments continue his cautious efforts to distance himself from his party on the issue of access to the ballot. Earlier this year, he warned that it would be a mistake for the GOP to go "too crazy" in pushing voter ID, because "it’s offending people."

And he introduced a bill to restore voting rights for some ex-felons, working with Attorney General Eric Holder.

Still, Paul's commitment to voting rights only goes so far. After his voter ID comments set off a firestorm on the right, he clarified to Sean Hannity that "there's nothing wrong with" imposing an ID requirement. And though Paul has said he wants to restore a "federal role for the government" in the Voting Rights Act, which was weakened by the Supreme Court last year, he hasn't supported the bipartisan legislation introduced in January that aims to do that*. Paul has said that any fix for the VRA shouldn't focus on southern states' history of discrimination, since there's no "objective evidence" that blacks continue to be prevented from voting 

On Wednesday, Paul will campaign on behalf of North Carolina state Rep. Thom Tillis, who is running for the U.S. Senate and was a key architect of his state's draconian voting law passed last year. That law, which is being challenged as racially discriminatory, cut early voting, ended same-day registration, and will impose an ID requirement starting in 2016.

*This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly said Paul opposes strengthening the Voting Rights Act.