One thing was clear in the November 2012 election in the United States, and that is that the movement to establish more restrictive voter identification laws is politically polarized. The Republican Party backed in large part a wide-scale concerted effort to repress the votes of a certain segment of our population -- a segment that demographic trends indicate favors the Democratic Party. In fact, since 2011, 19 states passed voter identification laws, 13 of which were in full force and effect during the 2012 presidential election.
Republicans have cited voter fraud as a basis for implementing these restrictive laws; however voter fraud has been shown time and again to be highly uncommon. Oftentimes, voter fraud is no more than a hypothetical. Take for example two Republicans arrested during this year's 2012 presidential election in Nevada and New Mexico -- two states that do not have restrictive voter identification laws -- in an attempt to "test" whether they could commit voter fraud.
On the other hand, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter identification laws are estimated to actively disenfranchise approximately 11 percent of eligible voters who do not have government-issued photo identification.
During this past year, I represented a 30-year-old, African-American Muslim man who was unable to obtain government-issued photo identification. He was born at home, and his parents neglected to file and record his birth with the State of Michigan. As a result, he was not issued a birth certificate or a social security number. On his 18th birthday, he fell into a gap in the law -- without a social security number, he was unable to obtain government-issued photo identification. And without identification he was unable to obtain a social security number. He was therefore forced by the system into poverty. He was unable to care for his two young children or take part in normal everyday activities many of us take for granted: obtain employment, apply for government assistance, register for classes, or even start basic utilities.
In his case, the probate court agreed that he was a "vulnerable adult" entitled to protection from the court -- vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation -- and the court was authorized to order the State of Michigan to issue identification. This was the first time any probate court in the country issued such an order.
His story is quite common among poor African-American families living predominantly in the South. It is imperative that we implement laws to not only protect these families from becoming further disenfranchised, but to empower them and reintegrate them in our society.
The systematic effort to suppress the right to vote that has disproportionately targeted minorities should shock the conscience. It is our responsibility as a nation to continue to serve as a model for a political system based on common and equal citizenship, as a model for democracy.