Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sunday that a new voting rights bill he's working on would help him reach out to new demographics, especially minorities.
Paul plans to introduce a bill that would restore the vote for people who are in prison for minor drug offenses. States have different felony disenfranchisement laws that vary in severity. Approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony convictions, and in some states misdemeanor convictions, cannot vote.
"In Kentucky, you lose your voting rights forever," Paul said on CNN's "State of the Union." "I have a friend whose brother grew marijuana plants 30 years ago in college, who has a felony conviction and still cannot vote. That’s wrong and unfair."
Because the war on drugs heavily penalizes minorities, Paul said this bill could allow him to reach out to new groups. "It is opening the door for me to talk to communities," he said. "Three out of four people in prison are black or brown for nonviolent drug use. However, when you do surveys, white kids are doing drugs at an equal rate, and they are a much bigger part of the population. So, why are the prisons full of black and brown kids? It is easier to arrest them. It is easier to convict them. They don't get as good of attorneys."
This status quo is unfair, Paul said. "The war on drugs has had a racial outcome, unintentionally, but it has a racial outcome. And I want to try to fix it."
Paul also took aim on Sunday at critics who accuse the Republican Party of trying to suppress the voting rights of minorities, saying his bill is proof that's not the case.
"Here's a Republican who wants to enhance the vote," Paul said. "This is a much bigger problem than anything else limiting voting right now. Nearly a million people can't vote. And I want to help people get their right to vote back."
At least 30 Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws that require voters to show some sort of government-issued ID before they vote. Supporters of the bills claim their purpose is to prevent fraud, while opponents argue that they disproportionately target elderly, minority and low-income groups who tend to vote Democratic. Obtaining a government ID can be too costly or burdensome for some people in poor, rural communities.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was cosponsoring the bill with Paul. Paul is working with Booker on a different idea, his spokesman said.