Speaking at the Louisville Forum this week, Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., says there is no evidence that African-Americans are being barred from U.S. elections more than whites.
The comments come as several civil rights leaders announce they are launching a 50-state project aimed at reviving a historic law after the Supreme Court struck down a key part of it this year.
Many proponents argue a recent voter ID law in North Carolina is an example of legislation that wouldn’t have passed if the full Voting Rights Act was intact. Both the ACLU and NAACP have filed a pair of lawsuits alleging the state law is aimed at suppressing minority voters in upcoming elections.
Paul says there was once a time for the Voting Rights Act and there is still justification for the federal government to intervene if an individual's civil rights are violated.
But Kentucky's junior senator says any new provisions shouldn’t focus on southern states based on past cases of discrimination.
"The interesting thing about voting patterns now is in this last election African-Americans voted at a higher percentage than whites in almost every one of the states that were under the special provisions of the federal government," he says. "So really, I don't think there is objective evidence that we're precluding African-Americans from voting any longer."
In 2012, census figures showed black voter turnout was around 66 percent compared 64 percent among whites.
Supporters argue those figures reflect the Voting Rights Act has succeeded over the past 50 years.
But those in favor of new voter ID laws argue these are common sense measure to safeguard against fraud. As CBS News reported, however, the North Carolina board of elections has referred to prosecutors only two cases of alleged voter impersonation over the past nine years.
Paul's comments on voting rights also are in stark contrast with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2016 as well. Those who predict a Paul versus Clinton race for the White House note the two have jabbed over foreign policy decisions, but this reveals a divide on domestic issues.
Paul told the audience in Louisville it’s wrong to compare voter ID legislation to Jim Crow laws, adding it's a disservice to Civil Rights icons who marched in the 1960s.
"I don't see a problem with showing your driver's license to vote," he says. "I also think that some people are a little bit stuck in the past when they want to compare this. There was a time in the South when African-Americans were absolutely prohibited from voting by selective applications of bizarre and absurd literacy tests. And that was an abomination, that's why we needed the Voting Rights Act, but that's not showing your ID."
But Clinton told the American Bar Association earlier this week that anyone who denies racial discrimination exists in U.S. elections "must not be paying attention."
"We do — let’s admit it — have a long history of shutting people out: African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities," said Clinton. "And throughout our history, we have found too many ways to divide and exclude people from their ownership of the law and protection from the law."