THE VOTER-ID bill passed recently by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives purports to be a solution to a problem that simply doesn't exist: people voting fraudulently by showing up at the polls pretending to be someone else.

If the bill, which now goes to the state Senate, becomes law, most Pennsylvania voters would have to show government-issued picture IDs every time they vote. If a citizen doesn't have a state or federal ID or a passport, he or she would have to go to a driver's license office with a birth certificate, Social Security card and proof of residency, and pay $13.50 to get one. (Current law requires voters to show identification only the first time they vote in a new precinct.)

Actually, the real problem that voter-ID legislation is meant to solve is that poor people and the elderly - who are 11 percent less likely than other eligible voters to possess such identification - are known to vote overwhelming for Democrats.

Supporters of the bill have presented no credible evidence of a problem that would be worth spending $10 billion, the estimated cost of enforcing the law, to fix.

Testimony by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania - which includes both Republicans and Democrats - said it could find no evidence from case records or anecdotal information from the counties that there is any problem at all. A report by New York University, which has studied this issue on a national level for years, puts it this way: "It is more likely than an individual would be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls."

Voter fraud simply is not a realistic way to win an election. To pull it off, you would have to find out the names and voting places of legal voters - people you could be sure would not show up at the polls - and coach the impostors to impersonate them. And you would have to do it thousands of times. You get much more return on investment of time and effort by registering new legal voters, especially people who don't vote regularly, and then making sure they get to the polls. Not so coincidentally, the proposed voter-identification law would make that strategy more difficult to pursue.

While there's no legitimate evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, there's a lot of evidence that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote by alleging there is. Thirty states are considering voter-ID laws, nearly all of them pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. A few years ago, the Bush administration fired eight U.S. attorneys allegedly because, when they didn't find sufficient evidence of voter fraud, they didn't issue indictments.

Spare us the argument that you need identification to buy cigarettes or alcohol so needing ID to vote isn't asking too much. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says that 700,000 Pennsylvanians - about half of them seniors - are managing to live without photo identification. Some of them no doubt are older people who once had licenses but now no longer drive. After regularly voting for decades, should they be disenfranchised because they can't easily jump through these bureaucratic hoops?

Besides, as State Rep. Babette Josephs,

D-Phila., observed, "No one died for the right to buy cigarettes. No one died for the right to drink alcohol. People have died for the right to vote."

Sixteen U.S. senators have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether voter-ID laws are jeopardizing voting rights. In the meantime, tell your state senator that you want more democracy, not less, in Pennsylvania. That means removing barriers to vote, not erecting new ones. *